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HR Update Remote work unlocks new talent markets for Ottawa employers P35

Used Magic

Signed Avon and Guess as clients

Secured $30M in funding

Tripled employee headcount

Appeared on Dragons’ Den

SPRING 2021 Vol. 23, NO. 05











One Company, One Call, One Team … FCi celebrates 25th anniversary The company’s secret to success goes far beyond just technology



is one of those enduring locally owned companies that has become increasingly rare in today’s global market. With modest beginnings, FCi launched in 1995 as a telecom solutions and cabling company. But customers wanted more without having to shop around. In 1999, FCi began building its commercial security division, which today spans design, integration and training for IP-based security solutions (including access control, video surveillance and intrusion detection). That led to a wireless division, CTS-certified audio-visual services, digital signage and other complementary services. FCi has grown into a truly all-in-one solution, deserving of the tagline, One Company, One Call, One Team. Customers include facility operators and business managers for public and private-sector organizations large and small throughout the National Capital Region. No matter their size, FCi has been privileged to serve each and every one - meticulously earning trust and loyalty one job at a time. Like all successful companies, FCi recognizes it’s the enduring support from these customers that ultimately made it possible to get to where it is today. The heartfelt appreciation here runs deep and is very much ingrained into the corporate culture.



“There is a different feel working here compared to other companies,” said Bruce Buckland, director of sales. “You don’t feel like you’re just a number.” And neither do clients, he added. “Why have we expanded the business into the areas that we have? Because we cater to our clients and we have the right people to work those lines of business and build those relationships.” This culture begins at the top and is premised on a personalized entrepreneurial approach to delivering customer service. While FCi’s management team divvies up the usual executive titles, the emphasis is on as flat a management structure as possible. “There is this teamwork spirit we have, but also a natural kind of comfort where everyone is invited to contribute,” said John Saull, president and chief operating officer. “We practice an open-door policy with no true hierarchy.” INVESTING IN PEOPLE “In our industry, we are one of a few companies to invest in our people as much as we do,” added CEO Mike Fleming. “We invest in both technical training and professional development at all levels of the organization. When a member of our team is onsite, the client will assume they know the technology, it’s the impression our team member leaves behind that makes a big difference.”

CULTURE MATTERS FCi has a unique culture that builds loyalty and thrives on teamwork. This has proven its worth in spades during the pandemic. FCi is considered an essential service and it took an all-hands-on-deck effort to adapt and ensure the safety of its 150+ employees and its customers.


It’s these engrained core principles that have truly stood the test of time for Fleming and his four partners – David Sheldrick, Stephen Lee, Jeff Hodgins and Gaston Carreau. Their time together has led to enduring friendships that extend well beyond their business success. The partners are quick to emphasize that this success did not happen alone – it was only made possible by the commitment and dedication of each and every member of the team. They whole-heartedly agree that they owe a big thank you to everyone at FCi. DEEP BENCH STRENGTH The team has a spread of about 50 years between the youngest and oldest members. That’s a wealth of knowledge that can be brought to bear for a client’s benefit. “The average tenure at FCi is 15 years plus,” said Carrie Fleming, director of client services and marketing. “A lot of people came in with those roots in telecommunications and have evolved with the company.” Those who leave, for whatever reason, often find their way back. For example, Brady Akeson, vice-president of business development and client relations. “The reason I came back was the relationships,” Akeson said. “We all grew up together in the industry, we all have known each other for a long time.” What’s the result? Richard McMullen, partner security solutions, sums it up this way: “We are a proudly local company with the ability to punch outside of our weight class,” he said. “We have a lot of experience and expertise and we work with a lot of talented partners in this space. We are community focused – everyone who works here, lives here. All of this has made FCi responsive to our clients in a way that I think is unique in the Ottawa market.” DISCOVER THE FCI DIFFERENCE Learn how FCi’s technical knowledge and unmatched service can be put to work for you at www.fci.ca.


HR Update Remote work unlocks new talent markets for Ottawa employers P35

Used Magic

Great River Media, 250 City Centre Ave., Suite 500, Ottawa, Ontario, K1R 6K7 obj.ca

Signed Avon and Guess as clients

Secured $30M in funding

Tripled employee headcount

TELEPHONE Phone: 613-238-1818 Sales Fax: 613-248-4564 News Fax: No faxes, email editor@obj.ca PUBLISHER Michael Curran, 238-1818 ext. 228 publisher@obj.ca

Appeared on Dragons’ Den

SPRING 2021 Vol. 23, NO. 05








CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER Terry Tyo, 238-1818 ext. 268 terry@greatriver.ca HEAD OF CONTENT Peter Kovessy, 238-1818 ext. 251 pkovessy@obj.ca EDITOR David Sali, 238-1818 ext. 269 david@obj.ca CONTENT CREATOR & CAMPAIGN MANAGER Lisa Thibodeau, 238-1818 ext. 280 lisa@obj.ca

04 Prospectus 05 Datebook 06 Newsbriefs

10 08 Mark Sutcliffe argues COVID-19 is reconditioning

NEWS RELEASES Please e-mail to editor@obj.ca.

how business leaders think

10 Ron Corbett on the pandemic’s forgotten retailers 12 Robert Hocking shares Fred Dixon’s dream of online

ADVERTISING SALES General Inquiries, 238-1818 ext. 228 sales@obj.ca Wendy Baily, 238-1818 ext. 244 wbaily@obj.ca

education opportunities for kids around the world


Eric Dupuis, 613-266-5598 eric@obj.ca Victoria Stewart, 238-1818 ext. 226 victoria@obj.ca CREATIVE DIRECTOR Tanya Connolly-Holmes, 238-1818 ext. 253 creative@greatriver.ca


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Recruiting remote workers Onboarding virtual employees Can employers force staff back to the office?

The startup levelling the labour market playing field for international students

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We’re not all in this together In times of crisis, like this pandemic, there is a sense that “we’re all in this together.” It’s a noble sentiment with a sometimes practical purpose. In this situation, for example, one person who flouts public health guidelines can infect dozens with COVID-19. In that sense, there is a connection between us. Unfortunately, this togetherness only exists at a superficial level. Consider the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on seniors, women and minorities. There isn’t much togetherness there. As vaccines roll out and we inch closer to a recovery phase, let’s remember the inequity this terrible health-care crisis has exposed. Given OBJ’s mission, let me advocate on behalf of a group that is bearing the brunt of restrictive public health measures: small business owners. For many small business owners, the notion of togetherness is an infuriating concept. The common refrain of this group is: “People just don’t get it. They don’t understand my reality.” What they mean is that political leaders, public officials and the average person

don’t truly appreciate the difficulties and financial risks associated with small business ownership. Let’s use plain language. Here is what a pandemic lockdown means to a small business owner. Lay off loyal employees, many of whom are like family. Stop collecting most, if not all, your income. Put your low-margin business at severe risk of failing. Contemplate losing your home. Forget about your retirement. As small business owners point out, this is not the reality that most people face in this pandemic, particularly here in Ottawa with its large public-sector workforce. With the federal government preparing to table its long-delayed budget on April 19 (and likely a general election on the horizon), the financial reality of small businesses needs to be acknowledged and addressed. It wasn’t that long ago that former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau incited a tax revolt by proposing measures that restricted the financial gains of hardworking small business owners. These were

gains typically built up over decades. The Liberals should reflect on the sacrifices made by small business owners during this pandemic and consider how entrepreneurs are incentivized through the tax system. More than most others, the pandemic has punished entrepreneurs who risked it all for their families, their employees and their communities. Without appropriate incentives, we might well lose a future generation of wealth creators and limit our economic recovery.

@objpublisher Michael Curran


Thinking Ahead: The Hybrid Employee



The new essential

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The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) is ground zero when it comes to treating people infected with COVID-19. For more than one year, its doctors, nurses and medical staff have toiled day and night to save lives in this pandemic. As vaccines continue to roll out, the


OBJ continues to produce a series of YouTube Live broadcasts exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and how businesses can react and evolve. First in April is a webinar that will provide useful tips for virtual meetings, using stateof-the-art audio-visual technology. Later in the month, OBJ will produce a webinar on employment law questions. Visit obj.ca/ events for more information.

president and CEO of the hospital will speak at the Mayor’s Breakfast in April. Cameron Love took the leadership role on July 1, 2020. With a $1-billion budget and more than 1,200 employees, TOH is considered to be one of Canada’s largest academic health sciences centres. A key project in Love’s mandate will be advancing the region’s new “super hospital,” which is slated to be built later this decade at the former site of the Sir John Carling Building. Love will be interviewed by Mark Sutcliffe. Register at ottawabot.ca.


What is the future of Ottawa from an economic, urban planning and infrastructure perspective? The Ottawa Board of Trade and OBJ will gather leaders from all sectors in late April for the second City-Building Summit. The virtual event will feature speakers, including Jennifer Kessmaat, a celebrated urban planner from Toronto. Other topics will include the “15-minute neighbourhood” and updates on major development projects such as Zibi and plans to rejuvenate the ByWard Market. The Summit will be produced on an “immersive virtual event platform” that allows registrants to network and engage in group discussions. Visit ottawabot.ca for updates on this event.

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EXECUTIVE BRIEFS We’re going to continue to be aggressive. This certainly won’t be the last one.

– Lixar CEO Bill Syrros on the firm’s M&A outlook following its purchase of Calgary-based SimplicityBI.



Former CBRE exec Hamilton takes business development post at Canderel



As it looks to make a bigger mark on the nation’s capital, real estate developer Canderel is turning to veteran broker Shawn Hamilton to be its new vice-president of business development for the National Capital Region. Hamilton spent 16 years at CBRE Canada’s Ottawa office, including the last eight as managing director, and is currently serving a term as president of BOMA Ottawa. He says he wanted to dip his feet into the development side of the business after spending his entire career in the brokerage space. “We’ve got a lot of good landlords, but we are running shy on developers and people who will build buildings,” he says of the Ottawa real estate scene. Hamilton says he has two key objectives in his new role. Job one is helping tenants in Canderel’s flagship Ottawa property, Constitution Square, adjust to life in a postCOVID world. His other priority will be tapping into his vast network of contacts in the business community to uncover new development opportunities for Canderel. The company is aiming to recapture its form of the 1980s and ’90s, when it built Constitution Square as well as a 150-acre business park in the heart of what is now the Kanata North tech hub. “We’d like to be as big an influence on the city as we were during the last tech boom,” Hamilton says.


Edgewater Wireless launches $1.2M share offering Less than a week after announcing an $800,000 share offering, an Ottawa tech firm that makes technology aimed at boosting the performance of Wi-Fi networks launched an additional offering worth up to $1.2 million due to what it says is “exceptional” market demand. The company is developing what it calls “spectrum-splicing” Wi-Fi technology designed to help large venues – think stadiums or even a big-box grocery store – deliver internet connectivity to many users. In a nutshell, Edgewater’s solution takes a traditional one-channel Wi-Fi connection that essentially funnels all traffic through one line and turns it into a “multi-lane highway,” thereby speeding up the flow of data over wireless networks. Edgewater’s latest funding bid comes as the company fights to gain market traction amid supply-chain disruptions and a severe cash-flow shortage.


U.S. court dismisses class-action lawsuit against Hexo An Ottawa-based cannabis company says a U.S. court has dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed against the firm on behalf of shareholders who claimed the pot producer misled them and failed to disclose problems with the business. Hexo said that the U.S. District Court for the Southern Region of New York ruled that the plaintiffs in the suit “failed to allege actionable misstatements or omissions” under U.S. securities law. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’

allegations that Hexo engaged in fraudulent or reckless conduct with the intent to deceive shareholders, the company said. In a news release, Hexo said class-action lawsuits have also been filed against it in the New York Supreme Court for the County of New York and in the province of Quebec. Hexo was one of three major Canadian pot producers listed on U.S. stock exchanges that were hit with class-action suits last year alleging they exaggerated or overestimated sales figures and market potential.


Brigil buys downtown Gatineau Sheraton hotel A real estate firm that recently announced plans to redevelop the site of Ottawa’s former Greyhound bus terminal says it’s buying a major hotel and a historic building in downtown Gatineau in a bid to revitalize that city’s heritage district. Brigil said it’s reached an agreement to purchase the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel and Conference Centre at 35 Laurier Ave. in Gatineau, just west of the Canadian Museum of History. The sale is expected to close at the end of April. The 1.75-acre site also contains the former Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Presbytery, a fivestorey heritage building that now houses a

conference centre for the hotel. “It’s a very important site for the postCOVID economic growth of the (city) centre,” says Brigil’s vice-president of development, Jessy Desjardins. Current zoning permits buildings of up to 30 storeys at the site. Desjardins, the son of Brigil founder Gilles Desjardins, says the firm plans to consult with residents and business groups to map out a development strategy for the parking lot beside the hotel.



KPMG acquires Kanata accounting firm Vanguard Professional Corp. TECH

Longtime Kinaxis CFO Monkman to retire in August After helping elevate Kinaxis from a little-known software company into a publicly traded leader in its field, Richard Monkman is getting ready to call it a career. The Kanata-based firm’s chief financial officer said he will retire on Aug. 1 after 15 years in the role. Blaine Fitzgerald, who joined the firm last year and currently serves as an executive vicepresident at Kinaxis, will take over as CFO. “It has been an absolute privilege to help support Kinaxis’s success in becoming an innovative, high-growth, profitable public company,” Monkman told analysts during a March conference call.

KPMG has acquired a Kanata accounting practice that caters to small and medium-sized businesses, the latest M&A transaction in Ottawa’s professional services industry as firms jockey for position in a competitive marketplace. The accounting giant said it’s finalized an agreement to buy Vanguard Professional Corp., a six-person firm that provides tax planning and preparation, accounting and other advisory services. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Vanguard founder Chris Finlay, who now becomes a partner in KPMG’s Ottawa office, had a brief stint with the multinational firm’s local operation earlier in his career. In an unrelated transaction, accounting firm MNP said it was adding about 80 former Deloitte employees and five partners to its operations in the capital in a deal between two of the country’s largest professional services companies.


Ottawa airport calls on feds to fund LRT station, rapid COVID-19 testing With his facility facing at least a $70-million shortfall this year amid the nosedive in air traffic during the pandemic, the CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority is calling for millions of dollars in federal and provincial aid to help finance the terminal’s planned LRT station and pay for rapid COVID-19 testing. Mark Laroche said that just one million passengers are expected to pass through the Ottawa terminal in 2021, down from 1.4 million in 2020 and 5.1 million two years ago.


$4.5M development to add short-term rentals, remote workspaces at Mont Ste. Marie Several local investors are planning a new building at a popular West Quebec ski hill that will offer short-term rentals and bring much-needed

amenities to the area. The Sainte Marie Hills development is being led by Ottawa businessman Max

in the Ottawa community. CHOOSE LOCAL. CHOOSE WELCH.

Damour, who is working with Ottawa real estate consultancy Caber Group and Linebox Studios on the project. The $4.5-million investment will offer ski-in, ski-out units, an après-ski lounge/ restaurant, private work/meeting spaces and a rooftop patio with a hot tub or two for soaking tired limbs after a day of pounding the powder, bike pedals or golf balls. Shovels are slated to hit the ground this August, with the building to be completed by next spring.



The more passenger volumes plummet, the more it jeopardizes the airport’s ability to fund projects such as the light-rail station for the expanded Trillium Line, Laroche said. To rein in costs, the airport has paused all capital projects not related to safety and security. The LRT extension is scheduled to be completed in the second half of next year. The latest cost estimates now peg the price of constructing the station at between $15 million and $17 million – money the airport authority simply doesn’t have, Laroche says.


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How COVID-19 is changing the way Ottawa’s business leaders think The virtual world creates so much opportunity, but also introduces interesting challenges






hen a crisis strikes, it’s helpful to remember how fortunate we are. And in Ottawa, we’re luckier than most. With a strong, diversified economy that includes a significant public-sector employment base, we’re well-protected from the damage caused by recessions and other surprises. But that doesn’t mean we should be comfortable or complacent when change is all around us. Like the Great Depression or the world wars of the 20th century, the pandemic will permanently alter the way we think. Ninety years ago, a generation of Canadians learned never to take economic growth for granted. For decades afterwards, they continued to save conservatively and stockpile canned goods. Likewise, the decisions of our business leaders will be permanently altered by the pandemic, long after it’s over. The greatest change may be the healthiest: We may never again take stability for granted. We are now a generation of entrepreneurs conditioned to adapt quickly to crisis, compelled to see change as an opportunity rather than a threat, and determined to figure out where the world is going and get there as quickly as possible. Those are all assets in a century when change was going to be a prevailing theme, regardless of any pandemic. Local workplaces have already been

permanently altered by the pandemic. I doubt that absolutely everyone will be working from home forever; in fact, I’d argue more people will return to the office than many would predict right now. But it’s not only Shopify that has reconsidered its real estate plans. Many local businesses are looking for smaller and different spaces, or planning to eliminate their offices altogether. And employees are already reconfiguring their lives with different expectations about where they will work and how little time they intend to spend commuting. Hiring patterns have also started to change. In the past week, I’ve spoken with at

regardless of where they live – but also introduces some interesting challenges. If we’re hiring people outside Ottawa, that also means our employees can be poached by any company in the world. So what are we doing to adapt to their needs, rather than expect them to suit ours?

We are now a generation of entrepreneurs conditioned to adapt quickly to crisis, compelled to see change as an opportunity rather than a threat, and determined to figure out where the world is going. least three companies who for the first time ever have hired people who don’t live in Ottawa and have no intention of moving here. The virtual world creates so much opportunity – our companies can hire the best people available,

We have also learned to pay closer attention to the personal wellbeing of our employees, something I hope will continue well beyond the pandemic. “How are you?” has become a genuine question, not a platitude.

The pandemic has accelerated every local company’s embrace of technology. The majority of us had been on no more than a handful of virtual meetings and webinars a year ago. Now everyone is fluent in an entirely different way of conducting team gatherings and client calls. And almost every business has adapted to doing business online. On their own, or with the support of programs like Invest Ottawa’s Digital Main Street (through which I provided some advice to a few companies), thousands have launched online stores, repositioned their websites, and created new apps to serve their customers in ways they once considered far off in the future. Perhaps the greatest lesson of this crisis is a new understanding of time. We’ve all commented on the distortions of the past year. The days on Zoom are long, but the weeks fly by. In a world that was increasingly focused on the immediate, we all had to think about both survival in the moment but also the longer game. How can we create companies that are built to last rather than just produce good results in the next quarter? If there are more threats on the horizon, viral or otherwise, we should be focused on long-term sustainability as much as short-term profit. A decade or two from now, when Ottawa companies are stronger than ever, we may look back on this difficult time and see it as the foundation for our success, a time when we learned valuable lessons about our companies and ourselves. It might just be the making of us. Mark Sutcliffe is a co-founder of the Ottawa Business Journal. He is a chair with TEC Canada, a business coach and adviser, and the host of the Digging Deep podcast.


PUTTING OTTAWA’S PUBLIC PROPERTIES TO BETTER USE With a little creativity, government-owned land can help increase affordable housing and enhance our community, writes Toon Dreessen


n January 2020, the City of Ottawa declared a housing emergency. Tackling this complex problem requires a range of initiatives. But one of the most accessible strategies involves rethinking how publicly owned land can be used to maximize its value to the wider community. In early March, the City of Ottawa purchased 1010 Somerset St. – a large swath of land running parallel to the Trillium O-Train line – from the federal government. The property will be incorporated into Ottawa Community Housing’s planned Gladstone Village development. This is excellent and welcome news. The $11 million purchase price exposes a challenge. For the 2.55-hectare site, we are paying about $430/ square metre ($40/square foot) to transfer a public asset from one government to another. At the end of the day, this is all coming from the public purse. One government is buying it from another, using tax dollars. What if we thought differently about our publiclyowned assets?

four to six floors of residential housing above the depot? A long-term lease on the land for a dollar a year would keep the cost of the overall project down and would keep the assets in public hands. An apartment building with no parking is ideal for the neighbourhood and, with a little bit of creativity, the depot operations might allow for some more active street frontage like a not-for-profit space. Sure, when the construction is happening, Canada Post needs to find a temporary home but, once back in, they get a new, updated facility. The construction time can be shortened by using mass-timber and pre-fabrication systems to minimize construction time and impact on the neighbourhood, resulting in better quality and long-term cost savings. No basement for parking can make the construction process less disruptive and contain costs. With new residential construction costs well into the range of $300/square foot, saving on the cost of land is significant. Even more so, this doesn’t require any complex planning approval, sales agreements or the expensive rebuild of critical infrastructure. Housing could be provided at median community income levels, or rent geared to income, providing much needed, sustainable rental housing. CITY ENHANCEMENTS Now extend this idea across Ottawa. Just down the street from the Canada Post depot is the Hintonburg Community Centre at 1064 Wellington St. W. Nearly half the land on the site is surface parking that could be converted to housing, needing no land transfer. Even if there was an argument for maintaining space

for cars, some of the community centre’s surface parking could be maintained while still providing five floors of sustainable housing fronting on the adjacent Hintonburg Park. More residents in the area would give a boost to the local business community and provide the walkable and bikeable density our small businesses need. At a smaller scale, we have many more pieces of publicly owned land that can enhance our city. Boulevards and wide public right-of-ways, such as Scott and Albert streets, can be enhanced with street trees, creating a lush canopy that mitigates noise and improves our quality of life. Traffic islands in the centre of roads can be converted from painted lines or mountable medians to raised planters filled with native species that promote pollinators. Small parklets can be created by removing slip lanes to improve safety and create a place for public art or a place to sit and relax. We have the potential to create housing affordability and enhance the beauty of our city. Ottawa is filled with publicly owned land and infrastructure that we can put to use, creatively reducing the cost of housing and providing the sort of beauty our city needs. There is potential everywhere. Toon Dreessen is president of Ottawabased Architects DCA and past-president of the Ontario Association of Architects. For a sample of Architects DCA’s projects, check out the firm’s portfolio at bit.ly/DCA-portfolio. Follow @ ArchitectsDCA on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.


UNUSED AIR SPACE Consider 407 Parkdale Ave., just south of Wellington Street West. Aerial photos suggest it’s been a Canada Post depot since the 1950s. With 45 metres (150 feet) of frontage on Parkdale, the one-storey building provides a critical piece of infrastructure for our postal service. But the air space above the building is unused. Meanwhile, the community suffers from a lack of housing affordability because land is expensive. Further west, a 0.04-hectare (50x100 foot) lot sold for more than $1.5 million ($300/square foot). At that price, it is impossible to buy land, develop it and create housing affordability. If the Crown land was sold to the city, Canada Post would still need to have land for a depot and build a similar building elsewhere; given the logistics of mail delivery, it would need to be nearby. Selling the land at market rates would take years of negotiation and cost the city millions of dollars, adding to the already high cost of construction. What if the city partnered with Canada Post and built

Apartments could be constructed above the Canada Post depot on Parkdale Avenue, increasing the supply of housing in a neighbourhood that’s suffering from a lack of affordable options, writes Toon Dreessen.



Waiting for the workers Downtown Ottawa remains virtually empty more than a year into the pandemic, leaving a legion of forgotten retailers waiting for answers PHOTOS BY JULIE OLIVER

BY RON CORBETT news@obj.ca





ne year ago, the office workers in the Sun Life Financial Centre on O’Connor Street went home. Each weekday, Mahmod Saed sits in a barber chair on the ground floor of that building and waits for them to return. “Nobody knows when they’ll be back,” he says. “Or if they’ll be back. How many will stay working from home? Nobody knows.” He sits in the chair of The Elegant Man Barber Shop and shakes his head. He has been cutting hair in the Sun Life Centre for 11 years. A job that has helped him raise four children. He bought the shop from a barber who also owned it for 11 years. Cutting hair, a block-and-a-half from Parliament Hill – that used to be a steady job. Now, who knows? “I qualified for (COVID) government assistance,” says Saed. “That’s the only

reason I’m here talking to you. But that can’t go on forever. I don’t want it to go on forever. I want to go back to work.” Merchants in downtown Ottawa are the forgotten retailers of the pandemic, the ones left behind when every office worker in the city went home, popped open a laptop and started living fulltime in the suburbs. Or the country. Or the Glebe. Anyplace but downtown. When Saed is asked what the past year has been like for him, he laughs and tells me to look around. It is a small barbershop, without frontage on O’Connor Street, and must rely greatly on foot traffic through the Sun Life Centre. No way the pandemic has been kind to Mahmod Saed. I glance at the posters of highly-coiffed models, a sparse shelf of beauty supplies for sale, and finally I see it. Saed laughs when he sees the surprise on my face. “It was the same day as the explosion at the Beirut Harbour,” he says. “It seemed a good day to cancel things. I don’t need the subscription right now.” There is a stack of magazines and newspapers on a side-table, left there for


customers to read while waiting. On top of the stack is a Globe and Mail Report on Business. The issue date is Aug. 10, 2020.

DOWNTOWN OTTAWA, PAPERED OVER When non-essential, federal government office workers were sent home last

March, downtown Ottawa emptied out. If you haven’t been there recently, it’s still empty. “It’s two different worlds, downtown and the suburbs,” says Kevin McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street Business Improvement Area. “I drive in from the west end, and some areas where I live, you’d barely think there

The recovery can’t start downtown until the office workers come back. – KEVIN MCHALE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SPARKS STREET BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT AREA


Ron Corbett is co-founder of Ottawa Press and Publishing, a regional book publisher. A former columnist with the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun, Corbett was also the third editor of Ottawa Business Journal.


It’s not just federal civil servants that downtown merchants are anxious to see again. Workers for non-governmental organizations, lobbying firms, regulatory agencies – they’re all missed. “We estimate the downtown office towers have about 25 per cent of their

workers right now,” says Dean Karakasis, executive director of Building Owners and Managers Association of Ottawa (BOMA Ottawa). “At the height of the pandemic it was five per cent.” To add to the confusion there’s Shopify, the local business behemoth that announced shortly into the pandemic that most of its workforce would start working permanently from home. At the same time it announced it was subletting its corporate office on Elgin Street. “That’s another thing we’re waiting on,” says McHale. “Will other companies follow Shopify’s lead? Will it even happen? … Maybe Shopify will change its mind.” McHale admits that could be wishful thinking. Shopify has given no indication it’s re-thinking that decision. And at the end of the day, he says, what downtown merchants need are more residents, not more office workers. “We need to diversify the base. We can’t just rely on office workers and tourists. We need more people living downtown.” That’s the long-term strategy. Right now, office workers remain indispensable to the economic health of downtown Ottawa. Both McHale and Karakasis think they’ll be back by the fourth quarter of 2021. “I just don’t believe everyone can be successful working from the bedroom of their condo,” says McHale.


was a pandemic going on. Things look almost normal.” In downtown Ottawa, nothing looks normal. Here, it still seems like the early days of the pandemic. There are few people walking downtown streets. Every office tower seems cavernous and empty. Traffic is so light you can picnic at intersections that once tried to kill you (O’Connor and Sparks, Metcalfe and Queen). And everywhere there are shuttered businesses with paper in the windows. The travel agency that specialized in cruise-ship vacations didn’t make it. Ditto for the floral arrangement and gift basket store that once must have made a killing on office parties and going-away lunches. Even a Starbucks in downtown Ottawa is papered over. Something I’ve never seen before. “The recovery can’t start downtown until the office workers come back,” says McHale. “We’ve asked the feds what

their plans are, and we haven’t been told much. We need to see some sort of plan, something that lets us know how many workers are coming back, so we can plan for the future. Right now, everyone is just waiting to hear.” Waiting to hear from the federal government is never fun, and never quick. Although the federal government employs more than 120,000 people in the Ottawa region, it does not seem to be in any hurry to bring those workers back to the office. Nor does the federal government seem overly concerned about empty storefronts and buildings. The feds, after all, own the north side of Sparks Street and have had empty retail space there for years. Indeed, the feds are so accustomed to owning empty retail space they designed special paper to cover over the windows. The paper is printed to look like stainedglass windows in the Senate. Designer bankruptcy paper. It’s an Ottawa thing.

‘NOW, I HAVE NO PLANS’ I ask Mahmod Saed how many customers he’s had this day and he tells me none. “I don’t know why I bother coming in on Fridays,” he says, looking around his shop. “It’s the worst day of the week. There is no one in this building but me and the security guards.” The day before he had four customers. That’s a good day in 2021. A year ago – a bit more than a year ago – he was doing 20 haircuts a day. Normal day. Not busy. People were cutting through the Sun Life Centre on their way to a job interview, or an important meeting, and they’d come to see him. “A little off the back,” they’d say. Something like that. On his feet all day long. And the LRT just opened. With a stop directly connected to the office complex. His landlord said there would be another 25,000 people cutting through the Sun Life Centre each day because of that stop. Saed did the math. He would need another barber. He hired someone March 7. The next week he shut down his barbershop, phoned the man he’d hired and wished him luck. “Those were the plans I had last year,” he says. “Now, I have no plans. I wait to find out what will happen to my shop. It’s out of my hands.” He can do no more than what he is doing. Show up each day. Be prepared to work. And wait for the office workers to return to downtown Ottawa.



Fred Dixon’s mission to educate the world The world begins teaching each morning, thanks to Ottawa’s Blindside Networks






or 30 years I’ve worked with companies on their consumer engagement strategies. You know many of them. You drive them, drink them, or conduct business on them partly because of the work I do. I’m typically the point person tasked with figuring out how to persuade people to buy a company’s products. The truth, however, is that many companies don’t have much that warrants your attention. And in a world of too much supply and too little time and money, being notable is important. Searching for Steve Jobs is an editorial series based on my experience looking for the people and companies that would inspire me, so in my work, I

could inspire others. This series is about showing you a little of what makes them worth paying attention to.

SEEING POTENTIAL The World Economic Forum estimates that by last April, 1.2 billion children across 186 countries had left the classroom and were expected to learn at a distance, mostly online, amid the pandemic. If you’re a parent whose children learn from home, you’ve witnessed the lifeline technology is providing in keeping them connected to their teachers. You may be surprised to learn that a small Ottawa company, inspired by a Carleton University master’s thesis, is at the centre of making their education possible. That company is Blindside Networks. In 2007, Ottawa software developer Richard Alam wrote about the potential of open-source business models to disrupt existing business categories. At

the time, there were roughly 150 web conferencing platforms, none of which specialized in education. A friend of his, Fred Dixon, read the piece and saw an opportunity by postulating that, as processing power and internet speeds improved, the potential for access to online education would grow. Dixon is one of the many entrepreneurs who began their journey at Bell Northern Research, the precursor to Nortel Networks and so many leading lights in the tech sector. After graduating from the University of Waterloo, Dixon arrived with the goal of keeping his stop at the Canadian tech behemoth short. As a teen, he’d read about companies like Apple that were started in a garage, inspiring him to take his programming passion and turn it into a business. The first few years of his career were instrumental in opening his eyes to the opportunities that would arrive without warning more than two decades later. “My early days in tech showed me

that when there’s a paradigm shift, everyone starts at zero; that large companies could be disrupted because a new direction changed what consumers would expect from a product,” he says. History books will eventually be written about how COVID-19 has created winners and losers in business. And how, for a few like Blindside Networks, it changed the very nature of their trajectory.

SURFING A TSUNAMI When 2008 came along, Dixon had spent more than a dozen years building tech ventures. When he launched Blindside Networks later that year, his goal was to become critical to the world’s teaching needs – something he would come to achieve as four of the five major learning management system vendors came to embed his firm’s open-source virtual classroom software. But when the pandemic hit, it was like surfing a tsunami. Schools the world

When there’s a paradigm shift, everyone starts at zero. – Fred Dixon, CEO, Blindside Networks

over needed to immediately switch from the physical to the virtual classroom. Harvard University was the first of the Ivy Leagues to announce it would temporarily close its doors. Dixon knew that if Harvard was closing, other schools would follow suit. “We literally had days, hours to adapt,” he recalls. “We were in a boardroom writing down what we’d need to scale, and it was mind-boggling.”

Virtually overnight, thousands of requests for assistance poured in from schools and companies around the world. Blindside Networks’ process of adding capacity to handle the volume needed to be reduced from one week to three hours, and eventually down to three minutes. “For many of our staff, it was their first time in a high-growth environment,” Dixon says. “I had to explain to them they’d likely never have an experience like this again. It’s only now that we’re able to step back and look at what we’ve done – millions of classes, millions of people have used our product – (and) realize we’d pulled it off. “If someone came to us last year with the need to add 50,000 users, we’d say no. Now it’s ‘Would you like to be up and running tomorrow?’”

“Every child has the right to a quality education. Twelve months ago, that wasn’t possible. But it is now through what we’re doing,” he says. “If you can get online, then you have the road open to your potential. Increasing numbers of students will have the opportunities that we’ve taken for granted.” Dixon is not what you’d commonly imagine an entrepreneur to be: he’s soft spoken, low-key, with a Zen-like air that belies his experience forming numerous tech startups. He looks at business as

more than simply a vehicle for revenue generation, and instead sees its potential to put something exceptional into the world. One day, as a global generation of children is graduating, we’ll look back and realize how exceptional Dixon and his small team in the middle of our city have really been. Robert Hocking is a marketing strategist and teacher who’s endlessly inspired by the creativity of commerce.

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LiveWorkPlay inclusion specialist Alastair McAlastair Ghartey, left, supports client Andrew Urie at his job as a custodian at Viral Clean.

LiveWorkPlay partners with Ottawa mask manufacturer, creating inclusive work opportunities BY NICKIE SHOBEIRY news@obj.ca


mid the bleak backdrop of job losses caused by the pandemic, an Ottawa manufacturer is working with a local non-profit to create inclusive employment opportunities as it helps to safeguard Canadians from COVID-19. Viral Clean operates a 25,000-squarefoot manufacturing facility in Nepean.

Currently creating 50,000 masks daily, the company is ramping up its capacity with an eye towards producing more than 800,000 units each day. When the pandemic first hit, Viral Clean started importing masks for the federal government. Quickly realizing they could make their own masks instead, Viral Clean pivoted, setting up shop within the month. As it scaled up its operations, Viral Clean

reached out to Ottawa-based non-profit LiveWorkPlay to ask if they needed any donated masks. A past recipient of the Best Ottawa Business Awards, the organization’s mission is in its name: ensuring individuals live, work and play as valued citizens. Founded in 1995, LiveWorkPlay partners with private-sector businesses, providing employment support to its clients, which include individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism. But the offer of donated masks quickly led to an even deeper, more meaningful engagement. “We learned more about the organization, and asked them to help us place two people here,” says Viral Clean CEO Alex Dugal. “We wanted to make sure that we were diverse and inclusive right from the start.”

BUILDING STRONG BONDS When initiated a new employer partnership, LiveWorkPlay starts with a workplace assessment. “We make sure that we can make the best match for the employer, and also for our candidate,” explains Alastair McAlastair Ghartey, LiveWorkPlay’s inclusion specialist. Viral Clean needed support with its mask assembly line as well as custodian duties. After looking through their clients, Ghartey and his team suggested Stephan Groulx and Andrew Urie. By January 2021, Groulx had started his new role on the assembly line, doing quality control.

“It’s a machine that pumps (masks) out – it’s pretty spectacular to see,” says Ghartey. “You have to be very quick, but you have to be thorough, because they’re packaging them.” Urie was hired as a custodian at Viral Clean. “Obviously, it’s a very sanitary facility,” says Ghartey. “They’re both very important roles.”

DIVING IN TOGETHER Usually, at the start of a work placement, LiveWorkPlay will provide employers with detailed information about how best to work with their client. However, because Viral Clean was so busy – producing masks 12 hours a day, six days a week – LiveWorkPlay made an exception, with Ghartey training beside Groulx and Urie on their first day. “As a company that was doing a hundred thousand things at once, LiveWorkPlay supported us fully through it,” Dugal says. “It was easier to onboard Stephan and Andrew than it is for us to hire an employee not through their organization.” Ghartey occasionally checks in with Groulx and Urie. “They’ve both gained a tremendous amount of confidence,” he says. “Stephan – it’s almost like he’s a different person now. Like anybody, he’s employed, he’s earning his own money. The people that he works with are really good, so he’s not as isolated anymore, particularly during the pandemic.” Viral Clean was recently awarded a Health Canada contract to produce 10 million masks. Dugal hopes that, as the company grows, so will its partnership with LiveWorkPlay. “As we need to bring more people on, we’ll be reaching back out to them,” he says.





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A virtual tour of Ottawa

Chef Patrick Turcot hosting the virtual cook along event for MPI.

How Ottawa meeting planners are creating engaging virtual events W



alongside one of the city’s top chefs that helped to draw a crowd of more than 100 participants to its annual year-end networking event. The local chapter of the international meeting professionals organization worked closely with Wiersma to plan a virtual cook-along with the Shaw Centre’s head chef, Patrick Turcot, who showed guests how to prepare a worldclass meal at home, guiding them through the process step by step. “The idea of getting on another call just to sit in front of your screen and occasionally chat just wasn’t going to work for us,” says Gabrielle Whittaker, director of member events at MPI Ottawa. “Seeing everyone participate and do something physical helped people get over that hump of being online all day.” Whittaker received such positive feedback from the event that she subsequently hosted a brunch cook-along with Turcot for her team at software firm Kinaxis, where she works as an events specialist. Hosting the gathering online also gave her team the opportunity to connect with their Kinaxis colleagues around the world – something they wouldn’t have been able to achieve had they met up in person. “This really demonstrated how much of a global reach you can have by hosting creative virtual events,” adds Whittaker, who is planning a virtual escape room experience for MPI’s next event. “It also shows the value of forming those great relationships with businesses in your local community and how a little creativity can go a long way.”


ith in-person events on hold for the foreseeable future, CONNECTING IN THE KITCHEN event planners in the capital are putting a new spin on While eye-catching extras such as a prize wheel or an virtual gatherings and enlisting the help of local businesses interactive game are commonly used to draw guests to to create memorable experiences for online attendees. corporate booths at trade shows, the addition of an online But with many virtual events still lacking the natural activation can be a great way to reach a wider audience and opportunities for networking found at in-person ensure a lasting impression, says Karen Wiersma, an account conferences, a growing number of companies and manager at the Shaw Centre. organizations are creatively using bonus activities – or “Standing in a booth, hoping someone comes by never “activations” – such as wine tastings, virtual escape rooms worked before, and it definitely doesn’t work online,” she says. or a guided tour of a local landmark, to entice event goers “In a virtual world, you have to have a bit of a draw.” to connect in a more relaxed setting. For MPI Ottawa, it was the opportunity to cook “Activations are designed with audience engagement in mind,” says Stephanie Seguin, the assistant director of sales, business events at Ottawa Tourism. “We want people to be participating and experiencing the city through more than just a presentation.” Local community leaders including Ottawa Tourism and the Shaw Centre are working with businesses, restaurants and museums across the capital to create memorable activation DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE opportunities that event planners can Visit OBJ.CA/OBJ-DIGITAL-EDITION to view the digital edition for exclusive features incorporate into their online functions to help them stand out in the virtual world.

As meeting planners look to the future, Ottawa Tourism is doing its part to ensure the capital remains a top destination for events and conventions. The organization is preparing to launch a virtual toolkit called Virtually Ottawa that will provide planners with a bird’s-eye view of the downtown core. Filled with links to local amenities, excursions and activation opportunities such as cocktails from Bar From Afar, the virtual tour will give event planners a full picture of what Ottawa has to offer – all from the comfort of home. “We needed to find a way to give clients the opportunity to tour the city virtually, given that they’re not able to travel and experience it first-hand,” says Stephanie Seguin, the assistant director of sales, business events at Ottawa Tourism. “This tool will be full of local flavour, and will set the city apart as the place to host an event.” The virtual tool will be available through Ottawa Tourism’s website March 30th.



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Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ottawa East Orléans: A home away from home A

s remote work becomes an increasingly permanent part of the local business landscape, one local hotel is providing Ottawa residents with a workspace option between home and the office.

“A lot of people are stuck at home with a full house,” says Doucet. “We’ve seen moms and dads book in for a night to simply watch TV, enjoy a nice meal and unwind.”

HIE OTTAWA EAST AT A GLANCE 103 rooms 51 suites

Explore your own city For those in need of rest and relaxation, the hotel is also catering to local staycationers. With the pandemic forcing many Ottawans to cancel or postpone their travel plans, the hotel is encouraging residents to get out of the house and explore their own city. “It’s easy to stick to your community and never venture out to other areas, but now is the time to do it,” says Doucet. “I don’t think people realize that there’s so many little things you can do at this end of the city.” Situated just minutes from Place D’Orléans Mall, the Shenkman Arts Centre and Petrie Island Park – where residents can walk along the beachfront and explore hiking trails – the hotel is surrounded by the perfect balance of urban and rural amenities. And with more than 100 rooms, an on-site pool and gym, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ottawa East Orléans offers an environment for guests to de-stress and recharge.

Text concierge service Heated indoor pool Fitness centre Full breakfast included Three meeting rooms

BOOK YOUR STAY TODAY Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to work or a fun weekend getaway, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ottawa East Orléans can help. Call or email the hotel today to find out more about its services. Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ottawa East Orléans 613-824-8444 guestservices@hieottawaOrléans.com



Pet friendly


The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ottawa East Orléans is adapting its services to become a touchdown workplace for employees looking for a change of scenery. Guests can rent a room for the day, book a room for a night, or stay for several days depending on what they need, says hotel general manager Maria Doucet. Whether you’re planning for a big presentation or need a clean, professional backdrop for an important interview, working from the hotel is the perfect solution, she adds. Remote workers can also feel confident that they are working in a space where hotel staff prioritize their safety by following all public health protocols. Each room at the hotel is fully equipped with free high-speed internet as well as a spacious workstation, alleviating the stress of slow connections and background distractions we’ve become accustomed to during the pandemic. The work-from-hotel option also comes with access to the building’s business centre for printing, copying and faxing. “There’s different ways to look at hotel

space,” says Doucet. “It doesn’t just have to be for vacationing. It’s a great place for people to work from because it offers that peace and quiet many of us are searching for.” Guests can also book a larger 10-person conference room to collaborate with team members, giving businesses a professional place to host meetings when the office isn’t an option.


How ThinkOttawa is simplifying the conference planning process How does an organization book 4,000 room nights across four hotels at the same time? ThinkOttawa makes it easy.



ith an abundance of hotels, shops and restaurants situated in the downtown core, it took executives from the International Association of Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Societies only one visit to Ottawa to agree that the nation’s capital would be the perfect place for their conference in 2022. Made up of scientists, federal employees and academics working to create policies and solutions to fight the effects of environmental chemicals, the association hosts an international conference every four years, bringing together members from more than 30 countries. The organization has never held the event in Ottawa before, and association president Paul White saw the opportunity to showcase the city and the work happening within it when North America was chosen as the upcoming conference’s location. In order to put together a pitch that truly highlighted the best parts of the city, White enlisted the help of ThinkOttawa – a partnership between the Shaw Centre, Ottawa Tourism and Invest Ottawa. The trio assists association leaders in planning conferences in the capital by helping organize bids and supplying marketing and promotional material as well as locating venues, hotels and excursions – free of charge.



From left, Carole Yauk, Paul White and Francesco Marchetti – members of the organizing committee for the upcoming International Conference on Environmental Mutagens in Ottawa – review materials for the event. File photo, taken prior to COVID-19.

“It’s pretty simple – without the help of ThinkOttawa we couldn’t have done it,” says White, who works full-time at Health Canada in addition to running the organization. “We would have had to set everything up personally, which would have been nearly impossible.” In preparation for the bidding competition, ThinkOttawa provided the IAEMGS team with a myriad of promotional tools, including an eye-catching video and a presentation highlighting the key benefits of Ottawa in order to help White sell the city as the best location. Before winning the bid in 2016, the team at ThinkOttawa organized and paid for a visit to the capital for association executives, which included a tour of amenities such as the convention centre, hotels and off-site venues, as well as the opportunity to visit areas such as the ByWard Market to get a feel for the city. “(The leaders) like for the delegates to be able to walk to get dinner, to shop and so forth,” says White, who was struck by the association’s enthusiasm for Ottawa. “When people came to visit, I think the proximity of it all was what was really impressive for them. It’s not very common that you have everything so close.” Working in collaboration with White was Theresa Gatto, a certified meeting professional and a senior business events manager at Ottawa Tourism, who says the partnership that forms between ThinkOttawa and the association is what makes the program so successful. To help White win the conference bid, Gatto worked with him to figure out what kind of event space the association could use and what kinds DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE of extra activities would be available for visitors, Visit OBJ.CA/OBJ-DIGITAL-EDITION to view as well as how many hotels they would need to the digital edition for exclusive features host roughly 1,000 guests. In the end, with Gatto’s OBJ360 CONTENT STUDIO

ThinkOttawa can help with: Accommodations When it comes to planning a large conference, guests often have to stay in more than one hotel, which can be daunting to organize. ThinkOttawa can help facilitate sourcing out hotel availability, ensuring all of your guests have a place to stay. “We help create connections with the hotel community and all members of Ottawa Tourism to provide options on availability and pricing. We send the information out about how many rooms a client is looking for, and then we act as the go between to communicate availability and pricing,” says Gatto. “Once contracted, those hotels would then block off those rooms, ensuring everyone is together and provide the organization with a link to register so the delegates can book their rooms on their own.” If you’re looking to host an event in Ottawa, visit thinkottawa.com to see how ThinkOttawa can help make your event a success. assistance, IAEGMS successfully secured four hotels, totalling more than 4,000 hotel room night stays. “It’s really important for us to work with thought leaders within our community from various organizations such as Health Canada and the University of Ottawa to bring large conventions to the city because the ripple effect of what it is that we do together is huge,” says Gatto, adding that events such as the IAEGMS conference can inject millions of dollars into the local economy. “We do all of that legwork because that’s what we do best. That’s our expertise.”

2021 Best Offices Ottawa SPRING 2021

A celebration of aesthetically beautiful, functional and healthy workspaces in the National Capital Region.





SPRING 2021 Best Offices Ottawa




or decades, the Algonquin College Learning Centre has been a leader in continuing education, providing resources for those looking to up their skills after entering the workforce. Ready to expand their offerings as well as their space, the school left its former home on Albert Street for 700 Sussex Dr., hiring architecture and design firm Provencher_Roy to


bring its vision to life. When the firm began its work, 700 Sussex Dr. was still home to a gym and hair salon. Underneath the matted flooring and heavy plumbing, Anna Westlund – a partner and interior designer at Provencher_Roy – could see a “beautiful architectural shell,” with limestone columns and natural light flooding the space. To zero-in on its client’s wishes, Provencher_Roy




says Leroux. “It’s just perfect.” As a nod to the centre’s neighbourhood, Provencher_ Roy created custom lighting: white, suspended globes that gently illuminate the space. “They’re inspired by the lamp posts that are all over the ByWard Market,” Westlund explains. “They’re dimmable, to be flexible during different events.” Parallel to the atrium are state-of-the-art classrooms, which can hold up to 100 people. Investing in its learners, the centre offers ergonomic setups with large, highdefinition screens and leading-edge connectivity. The classrooms are split with seafoam-green, flexible floor-to-ceiling walls. In one seamless movement, the space can switch from three intimate learning spaces into one large networking venue. “The wall separators are actually whiteboards,” Leroux adds. “As classes unfold over the course of a few days, they get filled with ideas.”


The Algonquin College Learning Centre sits on the second floor of 700 Sussex Dr., on the edge of the ByWard Market. When entering the facility, the first thing learners see is the main reception – a sleek, contemporary area with rocky grey hues and a subtle feature wall. One section of the ceiling is covered with a wood veneer, lined with a row of spotlights. Wrapping behind the reception desk, the rhythm of the veneer bulkhead represents a canoe, honouring the history of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg People. Additionally, all graphic signage in the centre is written first in Anishinaabemowin, and then in English. Walking down the bright corridor, learners are met with the centre’s defining feature: the atrium. Inviting couches and booths line the glass, creating opportunities for solo work or collaborative sessions. “I will take calls out there, cozying up in the corner,”

Best Offices Ottawa SPRING 2021

held two workshops, asking the Algonquin team to imagine their new space. Words such as “memorable,” “nature,” “community” and “inspiring” arose. “They really wanted to reinvent what the centre was,” Westlund says. After a one-year renovation project, the centre opened its doors in January 2020. The 8,800-square foot training facility holds several dynamic classrooms and collaborative spaces, with a palette of greens hinting at Algonquin’s brand colours. Custom features are brightened by a huge glass atrium, overlooking Rideau Street. With refinished wood flooring, carefully curated furniture and air-purifying plants, the whole space invites exploration and curiosity. “Learning environments are critically important,” says Kathyrn Leroux, the Algonquin College Learning Centre’s acting executive director for business development. “To be able to transform the space into a collaborative, living space was really quite exciting.”


SPRING 2021 Best Offices Ottawa





“People want to be in spaces that encourage them, that give them the inspiration to do their best work. The Algonquin Learning Centre is definitely that kind of space.”







Reimagining the space at 700 Sussex Dr. was no small feat

– Provencher_Roy had just a few months to complete their design work so construction could finish before the centre’s former lease ran out. “There was tons of demolition and lots of reworking the interior space,” Westlund says. But thanks to a detailed pre-lease planning exercise and the two client workshops, the firm was crystal-clear on its client’s vision, and hit the ground running. “Anytime you’re renovating an existing space, you have to be fluid,” Leroux says. “Working with Provencher_Roy was wonderful. They were constantly bringing new ideas to the table.” The facility was only open for three months before the pandemic hit – but for each of those months, it was fully booked. Moving forward, the centre will be offering a mix of in-person and virtual programming. “People want to be in spaces that encourage them, that give them the inspiration to do their best work,” Westlund says. “The Algonquin Learning Centre is definitely that kind of space.”

Best Offices Ottawa SPRING 2021

Back in the atrium, one end of the space boasts a chic hospitality and kitchenette area. Leroux recalls that, at the centre’s previous location, learners would file out of the building for lunch. “Now, classes break, and there’s clusters of people everywhere,” she says. “They’re staying in the facility – that speaks volumes to how comfortable it is.” To be more climate-conscious, the centre uses china cups and reusable dishes. “The plant life in the space is all real, too, and that lends itself to a much more calming environment,” Leroux says. Westlund is a big believer in this phenomena too, calling it “biophilic design.” “People feel and perform better when they’re in environments that either mimic aspects of nature, or have natural features,” she says.

SPRING 2021 Best Offices Ottawa




Taking on its own remodeling, BDA Lighting Group matches professionalism with playfulness LIGHTING ‘LAB’ SHOWCASES NEW PRODUCTS AND TECHNOLOGIES, WHILE CREATING SPACE FOR COLLABORATION


leader in its industry, Nepean-based BDA Lighting Group has more than 30 years of experience creating innovative lighting solutions. With many years of construction experience, combined with a passion for design and architecture, it is no surprise the company took matters into its own hands

when it came to remodeling its own office. The agency took over its offices from an existing company in the ’90s, inheriting 3,200 square feet of pink and green walls. “It was really dated,” recalls Jean-Simon Danis, one of BDA’s principals and co-owners. — SPONSORED CONTENT —

By 2017, the team – now triple its original size – was ready for a change. “We started doing renovations,” Danis says. “A couple of years later, a space became available next door, so we added another 2,000 square feet.” Today, BDA’s office features sophisticated white palettes with bursts of yellow wood-covered beams and bespoke art – all encapsulated in glass walls, keeping the space bright and airy. Befitting the home of one of the region’s leading lighting design assist solutions firms, BDA’s office is also creatively illuminated, showcasing the possibilities that come from combining the latest lighting and controls technology with expert design insights.

OUT WITH THE OLD The renovations were carried out in two phases. “The initial construction had a lot of walls, so we had to break everything down to open it back up,” says


“Everybody wants to come back to the office.” — FRANÇOIS BERTRAND, PRINCIPAL AND CO-OWNER, BDA

Best Offices Ottawa SPRING 2021



Lighting is one of the most important aspects to any office. A well-lit space contributes to employee well-being by creating a comforting and stimulating atmosphere that increases productivity while reducing fatigue. Plus, the latest lighting technology saves energy – and money. Despite the growing appreciation for the benefits of good lighting, it’s something that’s easily overlooked during the design process. BDA works with space users and their designers, providing lighting calculations, specifications, controls strategies and design guidelines, building up a reputation for adopting a client-centric approach. BDA’s mission is to accompany customers in the search for global, innovative and environmentally friendly solutions. “BDA really helps us in providing design assistance, providing specifications for different lighting solutions,” says industry partner Chantal Boyer-Casey, principal of design firm 4té Inc. “They have the technical knowledge to help advance our design solutions.” Others in the sector highlight the vastness of BDA’s product selection. “We have yet to encounter a project that they can’t come up with a solution for – be it a residential project, commercial, industrial or healthcare,” says Andre Drouin, principal of design firm Smith + Andersen.

SPRING 2021 Best Offices Ottawa

François Bertrand, a principal and co-owner at BDA. That was part of the first phase. The next phase focused on the newly acquired second storey, which BDA turned into a learning centre where they could showcase lighting products and new technologies. “We wanted to create a lab/collaborative space where we can bring clients in, host events, and also use as a large boardroom,” he says. Overall, BDA’s interior design matches contemporary styles with its teams’ playful personality. When clients enter the new space, they’re first met with a bright lobby, where colour-changing light fixtures illuminate different art canvases, each one depicting a technical drawing. Bertrand spontaneously commissioned the art after seeing an industrial designer sketching by hand. “I wanted something really rough, so it’s showing the thinking process behind some crazy new idea,” he explains. Beneath the lobby’s wood-covered atrium is a waiting area, decorated with potted trees and dark leather furniture. Embracing the eccentric, the firm added a red



retro motorbike in one corner of the room. “It’s different – people don’t usually have that in interior spaces,” Bertrand says.

DYNAMIC WORKSPACE In the main workspace, clusters of ergonomic desks give BDA’s team the chance to stretch their legs while reviewing design plans. To the left is BDA’s quotation department, and to the right, the project managers’ offices, separated by glass to maximize workflow in both departments. Custom lighting adds a textured look throughout, with wall washing and grazing – a technique that positions lighting closely to the wall, so the optics create different shadows. Offices for Bertrand and Danis are on the second floor, next to the learning centre. “It’s much easier (when) we’re sitting down with an architect or contractor or engineer, and we can bring out samples,” Bertrand says. A large, wooden barn door allows BDA to seclude the centre during events. “It’s a two-section panel on industrial tracks,” Bertrand

says. “That was a tough challenge because we were thinking about different roll-up doors and how to separate (the space).” But the design paid off – the door adds a rustic feel, complementing the reclaimed wood floor, as well as creating privacy when needed.

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE For BDA, taking on their own renovations – including the addition of top-tier smart technology, letting the team control everything from light to sound – was no small feat. “It was quite a bit of coordination,” Bertrand says. “Doing all that while growing a business was a great learning curve for us.” The new space had been long anticipated by BDA’s team, but with COVID-19 safety measures, many were working from home. “Everybody wants to come back to the office, the team is motivated and has that social camaraderie,” Bertrand says. And if that’s not a sign of a great office, then what is?

Best Offices Ottawa SPRING 2021




“People working on their dining room tables, on a dining room chair, gazing downward at their laptops are kidding themselves if they think it won’t lead to problems.”

SPRING 2021 Best Offices Ottawa





Virtual meetings can add physical (and mental) strain

Our work-from-home trend has developed ergonomic growing pains ERGO-SAFETY SHARES PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR KEEPING EMPLOYEES HEALTHY AND PRODUCTIVE




Give your eyes a break with the 20-20-20 technique. Every 20 minutes, look away from the screen and focus on something that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Don’t continuously Zoom. Taking breaks between meetings to rise from your chair is critical for readjusting the body, the eyes, and the mind. Consider alternative meeting types. “Does it have to be Zoom? Could it be a phone call or something else instead?” Hanel asks. Create a virtual background to aid privacy.


Hanel likes to call Ergo-Safety “a small company doing big things” because office ergonomics affects well being for such a wide swath of both the public and the business communities. Not surprisingly, virtual home office assessments have become an in-demand service for the company. Hanel feels many of the flawed pandemic home office setups can be attributed to how hastily they were fashioned and how most people assumed that the setups would be quite temporary. “At the beginning of the pandemic, when nobody really knew how long we’d need to work from home,” says Hanel, “most people just grabbed their laptops and ran. If they were smart, they also grabbed their chair, monitor, keyboard and mouse.”

What remedies does Hanel suggest?

Best Offices Ottawa SPRING 2021

egardless of how quickly COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out, the new prevalence of the home office is largely here to stay. That’s the emerging view shared by Sue Hanel of Ergo-Safety, the Ottawa-based workspace ergonomics consultancy that Hanel founded in 1992. “When office buildings open again,” Hanel muses, “I suspect that about a quarter of employees will be happy to return, another quarter will want to continue working from home, and the remaining 50 per cent will prefer some kind of hybrid approach.” Of course any sustained shift to more home offices will include benefits and drawbacks. Because Hanel is a Canadian certified professional ergonomist and registered kinesiologist who can delve into 30 years experience in the workplace environment, she can also see how all those people working from home – now and in the future – are exposing themselves to ergonomic risks. “People working on their dining room tables, on a dining room chair, gazing downward at their laptops are kidding themselves if they think it won’t lead to

problems,” warns Hanel. “There’s a segment of home office workers that is well set up and comfortable, but a large percentage is neither set up properly nor comfortable,” she adds. Those misaligned home office setups can lead to a host of physical and psychological ailments, including repetitive strain and other musculoskeletal issues and in some cases the recently appearing ailment commonly known as Zoom fatigue (see sidebar).

Connecting with colleagues via Zoom and other videoconference platforms has greatly expanded our work-from-home possibilities, but a key drawback related to home office ergonomics has arisen: gazing directly at a computer screen for long hours can lead to what’s known as “Zoom fatigue.” “We are getting a lot of reports of headaches and vision problems,” notes Hanel, but Zoom fatigue can include other symptoms such as poor circulation and “foggy brain” cognitive impairment.

Avoid these top five home office hazards Work smarter with Sue Hanel’s expert ergonomic tips. LAPTOP USE “Raise the laptop height to avoid a downward gaze. Even better, connect it to a larger flatscreen monitor.”


SPRING 2021 Best Offices Ottawa

“Your chair really needs to be heightadjustable and offer lumbar support. Ideally the armrests should match the desk height.”



KEYBOARD AND MOUSE STRAIN “Use an external keyboard and mouse instead of the ones built into a laptop – and keep them close so that you don’t have to reach.”



“Stand up, stretch, walk, and otherwise change your posture several times each work hour.” Alyssa Ashton, an Ergo-Safety associate, often says “Your best posture, is your next posture.”

“Don’t work in the dark or near a source of direct sunlight. Minimize distracting sounds, possibly with noise-cancelling headphones.” — SPONSORED CONTENT —

While some workers did take advantage of opportunities to go back for their office workstation equipment or have it shipped to them, many did not and are still working exclusively on a laptop, which Hanel points to as the second-most problematic home office risk next to sitting on an ill-fitting and rigid chair. Because most people consistently gaze downward at their laptop screens, neck pain is a frequent result. The downward flexion of the neck puts a lot of stress on the cervical spine, causing tension that can also radiate down to the hands if there’s a pinched nerve, says Hanel. If that happens, “You can feel the tingling in the fingers and possibly a numb sensation,” she explains. Related ailments may include wrist and elbow issues stemming from poor positioning of the keyboard and mouse, says Hanel. Good ergonomics is about much more than a sleeklooking adjustable chair, but Hanel points out how working in an appropriate chair is the most important element in a home office setup. “The No. 1 issue we’re finding is that people are working in chairs without height adjustment and poor lumbar support,” says Hanel. “If you don’t have an adjustable chair and you’re working on a kitchen or dining room table, you’re at the mercy of the height of the table,” says Hanel, noting that the inability to raise your chair so that the armrests match the height of the desk is a big risk and a common problem with home setups. “As a result, most people are working with arms raised at an unnatural height and angle.”


Visit ergo-safety.ca for details or to schedule an assessment.



Ergo-Safety offers detailed evaluations of home office setups by registered kinesiologists without the need for a physical visit. Through an efficient process that involves a questionnaire, photograph analysis and a 30-minute video call, virtual assessments result in a detailed report (in either official language) that includes suggestions for improved setup and examples of recommended equipment. It’s also important to note that some employee health benefits plans cover the cost of home office ergonomic assessments that are performed by a registered kinesiologist.

Best Offices Ottawa SPRING 2021

Fortunately, employees working from home are not always left to their own devices. Chief among the reasons why employers should and do help improve home office ergonomics for employees, says Hanel, “is that it’s simply good for business. “A good ergonomic home setup will enable employees to be more productive, more comfortable, feel more cared about, and less at risk of injury and resulting absenteeism,” she points out. Hanel has noticed that an increasing number of advertised employment opportunities now include assurances that remote workers will be furnished with ergonomic setups. “It’s now a selling feature from an employer to look after your home office ergonomics,” explains Hanel. On another front, maintaining healthy ergonomics may in fact be a legal requirement for employers. Both the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Canada Labour Code mention that employers are responsible for the physical comfort of their employees. Terms such as “ergonomics” and “musculoskeletal” are included in the legislation. “So, in addition to it simply being the right thing to do, there is some legal onus on employers to look after these kinds of employee needs, even for employees working from home,” Hanel points out.

Home office assessments have gone virtual


FINDING CREATIVITY IN A CRISIS How Nelligan Law invested in accessibility, employee wellness and community service


Never waste a crisis.



It’s a philosophy the team at Nelligan Law embraced over the last year as the firm adapted to the pandemic by rethinking both its internal operations and how it delivers legal services to clients. Even before COVID-19 hit, Nelligan Law was undertaking a significant modernization effort, injecting business management best practices not always found at more traditional law firms. As the full impact of the pandemic came into focus, the adoption of many of those ideas – such as the integration of technology and remote work – were expedited, improving clients’ access to trusted legal advice. With lawyers hosting video meetings and the law firm offering free consultations through a COVID-19 helpline, the pandemic accelerated Nelligan Law’s transition into a new era of modern, accessible legal service. “Things that would take eight years to fully implement are getting implemented in eight months,” says Nelligan Law CEO Mia Hempey. “As negative as COVID has been, necessity is the mother of all invention. And for Nelligan Law, that need is driving a lot of positive change.” THE TECHNOLOGICAL SHIFT Although law firms are deemed an essential service, enabling them to keep their office

doors open, many employees at Nelligan Law shifted to working remotely last spring. With staff no longer meeting in person or able to grab physical case files on the go, the law firm quickly transitioned to a virtual workplace, equipping lawyers, assistants, law clerks and support staff with laptops, Microsoft Teams phones and file-sharing software. “We’re leveraging technology that big business has been using all along,” says Hempey. “It not only gives employees more flexibility, but allows our clients to get top legal advice without leaving home.” Through video conferencing, clients are able to connect with the law team more frequently, providing them extra opportunities to ask questions or discuss their cases. For partner Lanise Hayes, the additional interactions created an opportunity to build an even closer relationship with her clients. As head of the Indigenous Law practice group, Hayes frequently works with various clients and community leaders in Northern and remote communities, advising them on land management issues, residential schools and local governance laws. Unable to travel to these regions in person – a journey she would undertake regularly in a normal year – Hayes relied on virtual file software, video conferencing and even social media and text messaging to keep up-to-date with her cases. “Because of the team’s proactive thinking, it was so easy to just keep working,” says

Hayes. “I immediately started booking online meetings, and my clients were so appreciative that we didn’t have a break in our communication just because I wasn’t there in person.” Due to the success of the firm’s virtual transformation, Nelligan Law is also turning two of its boardrooms into extensions of virtual courtrooms. Lawyers can connect with judges and clients via video conferencing, and participate in full legal trials from the Nelligan office. The transformation is part of the law firm’s vision of a hybrid future, where lawyers and staff will be able to work seamlessly between home and the office. MAKING LAW MORE ACCESSIBLE For local business owners and their employees, the pandemic raised many questions surrounding temporary layoffs, sick leave and lockdown restrictions. With Nelligan employees prepared to take on new cases from home, clients had direct access to legal assistance when they needed it most. The quick transition to virtual work ensured a smooth process for client onboarding, which no longer required a client to book time off work to meet in-person at a downtown law office. Instead, clients are now able to discuss difficult and often personal issues with a lawyer on their own time.


“Being able to connect with a client virtually alleviates a lot of the stress for them ... It strips away a lot of the ceremony and it reduces it down to the heart of what we do.“ - Malini Vijaykumar, Nelligan Law For Nelligan’s clients, the switch to virtual meetings has made the legal system more accessible, says Malini Vijaykumar, a lawyer in the firm’s employment law group. “Being able to connect with a client virtually alleviates a lot of the stress for them,” she says. “It strips away a lot of the ceremony and it reduces it down to the heart of what we do, which is talk to people about their story and give them advice on their rights.” As a leading voice in Ottawa’s law sector, Nelligan Law also saw the opportunity to lend its expertise to the wider community. For many workers suddenly facing furloughs, reduced hours and the prospect of pay cuts, the pandemic was the first time they needed to seek legal advice. To make the experience easier, the firm set up a free legal helpline that residents could call to ask questions as rules on business

operations continued to evolve. In total, the Nelligan team spoke with more than 500 local residents, providing advice and pointing callers to outside resources and websites for further assistance. Many lawyers at Nelligan gave their time to the helpline, fielding questions surrounding the return to work, health and safety legislations and employee assistance programs. For Nelligan Law, the pandemic provided an opportunity to create better client experiences and taught the team valuable lessons in flexibility and adaptability that will stay with the law firm well into the future. “Even with COVID-19, the firm has taken on so many initiatives that have positioned the company to continue to modernize and be successful,” says Hayes. “The changes that we made in 2020 are going to stick with us for years to come.”

With the majority of staff working from home, Nelligan’s leadership team implemented creative new ways for the office to stay connected and ensure those working remotely didn’t feel isolated. Taking a page from her business background, Nelligan Law CEO Mia Hempey began hosting monthly virtual town hall meetings to keep staff up-to-date on how the firm was fairing during the pandemic. “Historically, law was steeped in tradition and was seen as hierarchical and not always inclusive,” says Hempey. “At Nelligan we don’t see it that way. We are a team, we provide legal services as a group and everyone deserves to know how we are doing as a business.” To help staff make new connections, the law firm also hosted coffee chats, where employees would be paired up for a 15-minute virtual meeting with someone else in the office. Partners at the firm also hosted standing biweekly meetings for people to virtually drop by and ask questions. Employees were also encouraged to participate in several virtual classes throughout the last year. Nelligan hosted mental health seminars, workout classes and healthy eating courses to help the team integrate health and wellness into their daily routines. Associate lawyer Malini Vijayakumar, who joined Nelligan Law just before the pandemic hit, says it was a great way to meet her fellow employees and feel like she was part of the team. “All of these resources were really nice, because it made me feel like I was connected to a group,” says Vijaykumar. “As an employee, I could tell they really cared about my well-being.”



Left to right: Mia Hempey, Lanise Hayes and Malini Vijaykumar

A dedication to staff wellness

A growth partner for all seasons


Baker Tilly Ottawa has been supporting clients wherever life and business takes them for 59 years


osa Maria Iuliano, tax partner at Baker Tilly Ottawa, sums up the accountancy and business advisory firm’s fit into the local market this way. “Our largest client today started out as a personal tax client in 1962,” she said. “You just don’t know from where a client may come and how large their business might grow. But it’s our role to focus on what is needed at every stage of their growth.” While other audit, tax and advisory teams may come and go, Baker Tilly has been serving midmarket clients for six decades. The firm’s unique blend of local insight and global reach continues to prove that it is ready to serve and here to stay. The team understands what it means to be an entrepreneur or a growth-minded executive – Baker Tilly’s offices across Canada are independently owned and operated. Partners drive their own growth trajectories and don’t report to a head office.

What truly is the mid-market?

The mid-market means that an entity is mid-sized for their industry – a gauge that will obviously vary. In the accounting world, the mid-market encompasses privately owned companies with a range of employees and a wide range of revenues. The Baker Tilly Ottawa team has clients with revenue in the hundreds of millions. It also has clients with “small” owner-operated businesses who have a high personal net worth. These clients span industries – real estate, construction, high tech, manufacturing, not-for-profit/charities, private-sector consulting, retail and franchise, dental, medical and other professionals.


From left, Baker Tilly’s assurance leaders and partners include Mario Côté, Joe Wattie, Erica Clapp, Catherine Chapman, Nathan Leung, Jordan Malone, Michael Merpaw, and Benoit Groulx. Photo by Carlo Iuliano (Bellaphoto) What they have in common is that none of them are publicly traded entities. They also benefit equally from Baker Tilly’s client service approach. It’s all about playing the long game – a mindset that has been passed from the firm’s founders to the next generation. That younger generation includes audit and assurance partners Erica Clapp and Mario Côté.

In the relationship business

“We are in the relationship business – long-term relationships, not transactional ones,” Clapp said. “This sets us apart from other firms. I have clients that I have worked with since I joined Baker Tilly out of university 17 years ago – many of us have grown as professionals as we have helped our clients grow.” “We have the expertise in-house and that relationship focus to always be right-sized for what our clients need today, and to resize as clients’ needs and circumstances change,” Côté added. “Every partner is hands-on – when you call with an issue to resolve, a partner works directly with you to see it done.” With a smaller or earlier stage client, that may mean handling day-to-day tax, accounting and assurance work. As that client grows and staffs up its own internal capacity, Baker Tilly will come to serve in a more strategic role to handle complex situations, like a merger or acquisition, a wealth

transfer, a succession plan or an exit strategy. “We provide a wide range of services, including valuations, financial advisory, U.S. tax and data analytics,” Clapp said. “And we have a global network that can help a client who is expanding into pretty much any market.” Ultimately, the Baker Tilly team is there for you – every day, not just during tax season. “We often act as a sounding board for our clients beyond the core service that we provide,” Côté said.

Bench strength that spans the country

If the Baker Tilly partner that you are working with doesn’t have the answer, they will work with their colleagues who do. That extends to listings on the public markets, corporate finance, tax expertise in foreign jurisdictions or cybersecurity solutions. Baker Tilly offices in Canada support one another. “We have a truly holistic approach,” Côté said. “Our structure is set to always put the client first – each partner has every incentive to pull in whatever other expertise is needed from across the firm to deliver the best possible outcome to you.”

Learn more

Begin building a great relationship for your needs today. Baker Tilly Ottawa serves clients across the National Capital Regional, including Gatineau. Visit: www.bakertilly.ca/en/ottawa-ontario

“Every partner is hands-on – when you call with an issue to resolve, a partner works directly with you to see it done.” — Mario Côté, partner, Baker Tilly OBJ360 CONTENT STUDIO



Work-from-anywhere trend means local businesses are seeing new opportunities to hire outside the National Capital Region


y now it’s clear remote work isn’t going away, even once the global pandemic is over and it’s safe for everyone to return to the office.

While this shift opens a raft of questions for employers and their current staff, it also opens new opportunities for companies grappling with the city’s longfelt tight talent market. Ottawa companies are hiring employees who live outside the National

Capital Region to work remotely as a way of addressing a skills shortage in the city. But abandoning a long-held mindset that an employee must live in the same region as their employer is raising new questions for companies. What roles are suitable for remote

work? How far from Ottawa is too far? And, if Ottawa businesses are looking to hire employees in other cities, how can local firms prevent their staff from being poached by employers outside Canada’s capital? Continued on next page


By Caroline Phillips caroline@obj.ca


201-320 March Road in Kanata 613-319-8555 bonisteel@cilf.ca

Insights into the best practices of the World’s Most Admired Companies and Best Companies for Leadership

Q: What issues are Ottawa businesses facing as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions? A: The constantly evolving travel restrictions and border closures this past year have challenged many local businesses with cross-border operations. However, when it comes to the travel of Canadian work permit holders and essential personnel, various exceptions are in place. Many can still travel to Canada, and many are even exempt from the strict quarantine requirements. However, the rapid pace of policy change has generated uncertainty, confusion and differing interpretations by airline personnel, border services officers, government staff, and travelers. In our experience, it is not enough these days to be on the right side of the law – employers and travelers must understand the up-to-the-minute situation on the ground before setting out.


Q: What about workers in Canada facing expiring immigration status? A: The Canadian government has instituted various special policies to allow those in Canada with expiring permits to continue working or studying. For instance, holders of employer-specific work permits with new qualifying job offers may be eligible for expedited processing to allow them to start in a new role without delay. Some of those who lost their status in Canada during the pandemic have been able to restore it without penalty. While it is essential for employers to ensure all foreign national employees have the necessary authorizations, these facilitative measures may allow for staff retention and growth. COVID-19 has made labour mobility more challenging than ever. CILF can help you understand and navigate your options. We offer corporate and individual clients personalized immigration strategies and services to ensure cost-effective and successful applications for Canadian work permits, visas, permanent residence, citizenship and more. With offices in Ottawa (Kanata) and Toronto, CILF is ranked as one of Canada’s top ten immigration law boutiques by Canadian Lawyer Magazine. Contact us today to discuss how we can help!


“It’s harder to find people locally than it is to find people further afield.” – JAMES BAKER, CEO, KEYNOTE GROUP

Continued from previous page The shift is also prompting companies to rethink how they sell their organization to job candidates, says James Baker, CEO and co-founder of Keynote Group, a fast-growing Ottawa-based national headhunting and executive search firm focused on the real estate and construction, technology and nonprofit sectors. “People used to be interested in what the work setup was like, and the perks of the office,” he says. “It’s been fascinating to watch the shift to a lot of employees’ focus on the remote work policy and how working from home is structured.” Candidates are also concerned with how the company treated its employees during the COVID lockdowns and whether it showed flexibility. Also top of mind, Baker adds, is job security, and whether the organization is stable or likely to initiate layoffs at the first sign of trouble. He says his clients, particularly in the technology sector, are having to hire outside of Ottawa due to an ongoing labour shortage in the region. The region’s unemployment level remains “remarkably low” despite the economic shock caused by COVID-19, he notes. “It’s harder to find people locally than it is to find people further afield,” Baker says. Companies are also having to look elsewhere, he says, as they grapple with an aging workforce. “People are retiring faster than we can replace them, especially at a senior level,” says Baker. “The reality is, there’s too much competition for those mid-managers, so people are going further out in order to get the skills they need at a price point that makes sense.” The talent shortage in Ottawa is expected to continue, says Baker. “We know, if anything, the market will

get tighter as the market starts to rebound and business starts to rebound.” He cautions, however, that the city’s long-term prosperity still depends on positioning Ottawa as an attractive place to both live and work. “The key thing for us will be to continue to attract really good people to the city as much as possible and balance not only just hiring remote workers but also bringing people here to Ottawa who are going to contribute to the city and to our community and continue to make Ottawa the best place in Canada to live,” he says. It could be bad news for the region if teleworking becomes a permanent thing in the federal government, says Baker. Such a trend could weaken the argument for having a centralized workforce in Ottawa, especially when other parts of the country are in need of jobs. “There could be some economic impacts if we start to see some of those roles disperse, because a lot of our small businesses feed off a pretty dense commercial business sector,” he says. On the flip side, the growing comfort for remote workers can also accelerate the expansion plans of companies looking at Ottawa. “We’ve now got U.S. firms calling us and saying we’ve want to hire an Ottawabased sales resource to target that city.”

A HYBRID FUTURE It’s practically impossible to tackle the topic of the pandemic and the reaction by the business community without dropping the ubiquitous p-word: pivot. Ross Video closed its offices and sent the majority of its employees home in March 2020. “We’re proud of how well our employees pivoted and adjusted to working from home,” says Cathy

McCallion, recruitment strategist and community relations manager for the video production and broadcast company. “We learned a lot about ourselves and our capabilities, and we’ve been able to function and be productive remotely.” Ross Video hired 90 additional employees between the start of November and end of January, bringing its workforce to 900-plus, and growing. New hires have been across the board, says McCallion. Some of its positions have been filled by people based out of the Toronto area, with the expectation that they can travel to Eastern Ontario from time to time. “They’re just a short plane, train or car ride away,” says McCallion. Prior to the pandemic, the company had been piloting remote working in targeted areas, but COVID sent the vast majority of its employees home to work digitally, says McCallion. “When you’re forced into it you learn to adjust, you learn to adapt, and you realize over time that it can work and it can be very productive.” The company runs its R&D labs in Ottawa and its headquarters and high-tech manufacturing facility an hour away in Iroquois, between Brockville and Cornwall. While some employees, such as those at the manufacturing and lab facilities, need to physically go into work during the pandemic, jobs in marketing and sales, software, tech support, HR, finance, bookkeeping and accounting are suitable for remote work, says McCallion, who expects to see a hybrid work environment in the future, with people coming into the office less often than before. “I think we all accept that the office spaces we had prior to the pandemic will likely be shared with one, possibly two, other people,” she says.


“People find a way to connect that maybe they wouldn’t have before.” – KAITLYN BUSE, HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER, POSITIVE VENTURE GROUP

STRATEGIES FOR ONBOARDING VIRTUAL EMPLOYEES Steps to making new hires feel like they’re part of the team By Caroline Phillips caroline@obj.ca


f you think about it, a new job is kind of like a first date except that, even if it goes badly, you’re still going to have to see each other again. That’s why the onboarding process is such an essential part of the hiring process. “It creates the first impression,” says

Maurice Le Maire, director of advisory services for RCGT (Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton) Consulting. “If it’s a lousy first impression and you’re not meeting the employee’s expectations, that’s what they keep in the back of their mind during the time they stay with the organization.” Having to virtually integrate a new employee into an organization presents a unique set of challenges for employers. Key to making everything run smoothly is good planning and scheduling that involves the team and other colleagues with whom the new hire will collaborate, says Le Maire. He suggests non-intrusive check-

ins by managers to see how their new employees are adjusting, to point them in the right direction, or at least ensure there’s a colleague to show them how to use tools and materials. “We have come to expect people to be comfortable with technology and with working in a remote environment, but that’s not always the case,” says Le Maire. “People will do it, because we have no choice, but that doesn’t mean we’re all overly comfortable with technology.” Not convinced? Count the number of times, more than a year into the pandemic, you’ve seen a speaker on a video call stuck on mute. There’s potential to overload a new hire with information if you’re trying to cram everything into a 30-minute meeting, instead of sharing details throughout the work day, as one might do in an office setting, says Le Maire. Working in a remote environment can also make it harder to pick up on

non-verbal cues and to have a fluid conversation, he points out. “Because there’s a time lag, you cannot interject as much. You always have to wait until the other person is finished talking.”

FORGING CONNECTIONS Kaitlyn Buse is human resources manager at Positive Venture Group, a financebased management consulting firm. She says communication is key to the virtual onboarding process. “It’s really about making sure nobody is siloed,” she says. Her company is constantly evolving and improving its virtual onboarding process, she notes. “When we shifted to remote, it was new for everybody. I was always really upfront with candidates when they were interviewing with us, telling them, ‘This is new, we’re learning. What we need from you is to communicate with us if there’s something we can be doing better.’”

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She believes employees can still forge connections with one another in the remote work world that will keep them happy and engaged. “People find a way to connect that maybe they wouldn’t have before,” she says, citing examples of how

the surprise appearance of a pet or child during a video call can bring employees closer together. “You almost gain this insight into other people’s lives that you wouldn’t have had before, which is kind of interesting.”


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In recent years, the role of human resources has moved beyond what was once simply paying employees and managing employee benefits. Human resources professionals are now contributing to an organization’s strategic decisionmaking, says Carol Ann Samhaber, a professor and academic coordinator with Algonquin College’s School of Business as well as the Ottawa chapter board chair of the Human Resources Professionals Association. “If you think backward and not that long ago most people who were practising in HR were doing it more in a service capacity or without academic credentials or professional designations,” says Samhaber. “Nowadays, good human resource management has a deeper involvement in the organization. That person or group of people are directly involved in the organizational strategic planning. They’re sitting at that table, they’re helping to contribute to the design, the implementation, the evaluation of the business strategy.” Human costs at work are very expensive, she notes. “The ability to attract and retain the right people, keep them healthy and safe at work – all of those pieces have to be very elegantly managed to keep your workforce.”

“As an employer, you kind of have a right to decide that you want to go back to your pre-pandemic way of doing things.” – JOËL DUBOIS, PARTNER, PERLEY-ROBERTSON, HILL & MCDOUGALL

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THE RETURN TO WORK: BRINGING EMPLOYEES BACK TO THE OFFICE As health risks start to fade, how can employers manage staff who prefer to keep working from home? By Caroline Phillips caroline@obj.ca


on’t get too comfortable; the days of working at home in one’s pajamas or sweats may be numbered. As COVID-19 vaccines become available to wider segments of the population, Canadians could soon be called back to the workplace by their employers. One of the big questions being asked of lawyers these days is whether bosses can order workers back to the office as the public health risk of contracting COVID-19 fades away. “The answer is, generally, yes,” says Joël Dubois, a law partner at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall. “Fundamentally, the employer, subject to any prior deals they had with the employees when they hired

them, can force them to work in the office.” By law, employers are required to protect their employees’ public health and human rights, which means allowing employees who are able to work from home to continue to do so, to promote physical distancing and to safeguard themselves. “When you’re in the middle of a pandemic, you’re kind of rolling with it as an employer,” says Dubois. “We know we have to all make sacrifices, including employers and businesses. “But, at some point in time, as an employer, you kind of have a right to decide that you want to go back to your pre-pandemic way of doing things.”

IS THIS A FIGHT WORTH HAVING? Fielding questions about COVID-19 returnto-work issues has almost “become an area of practice within our area of practice,” says J.D. Sharp, a partner at labour and employment law firm Emond Harnden. “One of the problems for employers is that there isn’t a cookie-cutter solution and there’s so much grey area in any ‘duty to accommodate’ scenario,” he says. There will come a time, said Sharp, when employers will be asking remote workers to return. This may come as

welcomed news to employees who crave human contact, collaboration and connections while a small number may resist, whether their concerns are valid or not, he says. “We see this typically in any workplace; 90 per cent of employees just want to show up and do their job and go home but then there’s 10 per cent who want to fight and be in opposition to what the employer wants. “There are going to be these types of very narrow issues where the employer is going to have to decide, ‘Is this fight worth having? If this employee is working at home and they’re pretty much 95 per cent as efficient as they’ve been working in the office, do I want to spend thousands of dollars litigating?’ “I think that’s going to be the frictional stuff that we see when things start to open up a little bit more, when much more of the population is vaccinated, for example, and it’s safer to bring people back.”

ADVICE FOR EMPLOYEES Jim Anstey, a lawyer in the employment law group at Nelligan Law, believes the most significant work-related disruptions have already occurred, when employers were laying off/terminating employees last March and April as Canada went into lockdown. “It was a bit of chaos, but all the businesses I gave advice to seemed to figure it out and there hasn’t been a big upheaval, in terms of big court battles. “Cooler heads prevailed, I’ll say, in terms of managing workforces and restructuring,” he says. Anstey believes the eventual process of bringing remote workers back to the workplace will go smoothly. “If I were to give advice to an employee resisting the employer’s direction to return to the office, I’d say that, unless you think there’s an elevated risk because of your workplace or you have a particular risk yourself because of a health issue, things are going to go back to normal at some point. “It’s really a matter of ‘at what point in time is it reasonable to do so,’ not whether the employee thinks it’s a good time to go back. It’s ‘what a reasonable person would consider appropriate,’ subject to public health orders, of course. That’s what the courts look at.”

OBJ March 2021.qxp_Layout 1 2021-03-17 11:50 AM Page 1

World- Class Training — Wherever You Are.



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Strategies for Workplace Conflicts / Sep. 13-17 (11am-3pm ET)

Performance Management / May 10-13 (1pm-4pm ET)

Managing Unionized Environments / Sep. 14-17 (11:30am-5pm ET)

Workplace Restoration / May 10-13 (10am-2:30pm ET)

LR Foundations / Sep. 20-24 (10am-5pm ET)

Coaching Skills / May 17-20 (11am-4pm ET)

Change Management / Sep. 20-23 (12pm-4pm ET)

Labour Arbitration Skills / May 31-Jun. 3 (10am-5pm ET)

Linking HR Strategy to Business Strategy / Sep. 27-Oct. 1 (10am-3pm ET)

Organizational Design / Jun. 7-11 (11am-3:30pm ET)

Building Trust in the Workplace / Sep. 27-30 (1pm-4:30pm ET)

LR Foundations / Jun. 14-18 (10am-5pm ET)

OD Foundations / Oct. 4-7 (11am-4pm ET)

Negotiation Skills / Jul. 19-23 (10am-5pm ET)

Strategic Workforce Planning / Oct. 5-7 (1pm-4:30pm ET)

Mastering Fact-Finding & Investigation / Oct. 18-22 (10am-4:30pm ET)

Negotiation Skills / Oct. 25-29 (10am-5pm ET)

Performance Management / Nov. 1-4 (1pm-4pm ET)

HR Metrics & Analytics / Nov. 1-4 (10am-3pm ET)

Coaching Skills / Nov. 15-18 (11am-4pm ET)

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LR Foundations / Nov. 29-Dec. 3: Kingston

Negotiation Skills / Dec. 6-10: Kingston

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(in person - tentative) (in person - tentative)


face unique pressures, such as having to find post-graduate employment in order to apply for permanent residency in Canada. As well, many parents – including Oluwole’s – save and sacrifice to send their children overseas for a better future. Students don’t want to disappoint their parents. Oluwole started The 3Skills nearly two years ago with his co-founders: Joshua Alawode, chief technology officer; Marianne Encina, chief financial officer; and Anisa Sanipe, chief marketing officer. The business is a gratifying side hustle for Oluwole, who also works for Shopify as a full-time merchant success manager. The founders created a program to help people improve their résumés, LinkedIn profiles and interview skills. They focused on three of the top skills that employers look for: adaptability, creativity and persuasion. The 3Skills virtual program teaches job seekers how to communicate their value to potential employers and to come up with ways to distinguish themselves. “On average, recruiters look at a résumé for six seconds,” says Oluwole.

“If you’re coming in as an international student, you’re already four steps behind.” – TOBI OLUWOLE, CO-FOUNDER, THE 3SKILLS



OTTAWA STARTUP THE 3SKILLS HELPING INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS BREAK INTO CANADIAN WORKFORCE Side hustle for Shopify manager aims to level the playing field by helping job seekers communicate their value


By Caroline Phillips caroline@obj.ca


ttawa serial entrepreneur Tobi Oluwole and his business partners provide recent graduates with the skills they need to crush their interviews and get that job offer. Their local startup, The 3Skills, has been particularly valuable to international students struggling to break into the Canadian workforce as they compete against candidates with the home advantage. “If you’re coming in as an international student, you’re already four steps behind,”

says Oluwole, company co-founder and CEO. “You don’t have the networks, you don’t have the experience of growing up in Canada, you don’t have the confidence of someone who grew up here. “Our whole thing was that we needed to level the playing field by helping them get to a place where if a Canadian student and an international student went in for a job and they had the same skills and the same ability to do that job, they’d have equal opportunity to get that job,” says Oluwole, who left his homeland of Nigeria at age 15 to come study in Canada. Hiring managers have been known

to bypass a résumé because the applicant has an impossible-to-pronounce or ethnic name, said Oluwole, who remembers how he got more interviews after shortening his legal name, Oluwatobiloba, on his CV. “I always say to our students, ‘It is what it is. Learn how to adapt to the system and then change it from the inside. You can’t change it from the outside.’”

ADAPTABILITY, CREATIVITY, PERSUASION Of the two million-plus post-secondary students in Canada, more than one-quarter are international students. Many of them

The Carleton University graduate and former varsity soccer player was inspired to create The 3Skills after seeing many of his educated friends stuck in low-paying jobs. Even his bright and accomplished sister initially had trouble breaking into the job market. What really set Oluwole’s entrepreneurial wheels in motion was learning from a friend that she’d paid an agency $2,400 to help her win work, without results. Oluwole – who was already helping friends tweak their résumés – knew he could provide a better service while charging a fraction of the price. “That was the first time I realized what I was doing out of passion someone was paying for,” he says. To test the waters, Oluwole sent out a message via Instagram, offering to help five people find a job. He quickly heard back from 50 interested parties. Next, he and his co-founders hosted a free workshop that saw two-thirds of the 30 participants sign up for a six-hour training session. To date, the company has seen more than 130 of its participants land good jobs. “We get to impact people’s lives on a very fundamental level,” says Oluwole, who got married in 2019 and has applied for his Canadian citizenship. “There are a lot of problems that can be fixed with a sense of purpose, and that’s really what we’re trying to give a lot of these students.”

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North Grenville is a wonderful and caring community, where neighbours look out for one another. — Mayor Nancy Peckford

Photos courtesy of the Municipality of North Grenville






any of us now work in the same place we used to associate with downtime, rest and family. A home’s function is evolving at an accelerated pace. The sheer number of us setting up shop in our living rooms is colliding with the growing sentiment amongst city dwellers who wish to flee the hectic city life. With the shocking surge in home prices throughout the nation’s capital, there is more reason than ever to load up the moving trucks for a more balanced life beyond the city limits. We are suspended in a moment that has enabled more people to see that this dream has roots not just in reality but in practicality. In Kemptville, tucked into the municipality of North Grenville, you can find yourself sitting by the UNESCO World Heritage designated Rideau River after a walk on any one of the accessible 150 kilometres of trails that weave through Eastern Ontario’s largest tree nursery. Road cyclists have hailed the local roads as yellowjersey-worthy as they wind between historic hamlets. If you’re a paddler, you can get your ankles wet at many a landing. The community centre, baseball diamonds, pool and curling rink don’t require midnight timeslots or pockets full of cash. The shopping selection ranges from great

boutiques to big-box stores. Dining options range from mom and pop take-out to full four-course experiences. Despite this sounding like a country song lyric – if there’s something you can’t get, I haven’t found it. Mayor Nancy Peckford said recently, “North Grenville is a wonderful and caring community, where neighbours look out for one another. The pandemic has only amplified the generosity of residents and businesses.” I moved to Kemptville four decades ago. As a builder, renovator and the owner of LA Group, I’ve helped shepherd its growth. We have a community development in the works called Oxford Village. It will sit amid 50 acres of protected wetland and forest with managed trails – like living in a mini provincial park. Yet it is still five minutes to good schools, cafes, shops and community hubs. People are catching on to the idea of a custom home in the country in greater numbers. It’s easy to focus on the house itself, but its surroundings are just as crucial. When people are interested in one of my homes, I tell them to choose a lot with me. I ask them questions designed to inform the decisions they can make. Do they want the morning sun to wake them up in the master bedroom or light to stream into their office? These are the amazing things you get to consider when you decide on a custom home.

There’s an idea that custom homes are for the wealthy. It isn’t true. People deserve to design the space they live, and now work in. The ideal home is one that serves people as they go through the stages of life. They can have a sound-proofed office space. They can dedicate a closet to the clunky printer. They can custom-build the desk into the wall with the best light. They can plan for the nursery to become a yoga studio; a garage that accommodates a rec room. The house should be able to morph throughout its life just as you do. The surge in interest in custom homes is a reflection of the times. Imagine not competing for space or silence when the whole family is home. Imagine a lunch hour spent in hiking boots or a kayak. Kemptville and North Grenville may not have been on your radar. One quick podcast of a drive down the 416 will bring you to the life you never knew you needed. Gilles Brisebois is the CEO of LA Group and vice-president for the Oxford Village development in Kemptville. His career spans more than 30 years building award-winning custom homes as well as residential and commercial construction throughout the Ottawa region.

Making their mark: OBJ’s 2021 Fastest Growing Companies list reflects capital’s resilience BY DAVID SALI


In a year that challenged local entrepreneurs like no other in recent memory, Ottawa’s business community showed what it’s truly made of in 2020. While the pandemic ravaged many sectors of the economy, resiliency

proved to be just as much a byword of the past 12 months as masking and physical distancing. Businesses of all stripes across the National Capital Region showed their ability to adapt under incredible circumstances as they

navigated through a storm no one could have foreseen. That get-it-done attitude is clearly reflected in the 2021 list of OBJ’s fastestgrowing companies based on revenue growth over the past three years. A record number of applicants produced an outstanding group of companies that included three firms with three-year growth of more than 1,000 per cent. Equally impressive, this isn’t just a laundry list of tech startups. This year’s recipients run the gamut, from a last-mile delivery service that grabbed two multimillion-dollar financing rounds in 2020 to an upstart distillery that found a way to turn a milk byproduct into a vodka that’s flying off the shelves. Perhaps the most telling statistic that demonstrates the depth and breadth of the capital region’s entrepreneurial spirit is this: just one of this year’s growth leaders has previously appeared on OBJ’s list. Clearly, a new crop of enterprising entrepreneurs is making its mark on Ottawa’s economy. We are proud to celebrate this impressive group’s accomplishments. To find out how these plucky upstarts did it, read on.

GoFor delivers on early promise to become a last-mile logistics force GOFOR YEAR FOUNDED: 2016 LOCAL HEADCOUNT: 130 THREE-YEAR REVENUE GROWTH: 5,319% GoFor now operates in 75 cities. PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON America, resulting in two major funding rounds that injected nearly $30 million into GoFor’s coffers to help fuel its breathtaking ascent. It’s enough to make even the most seasoned entrepreneur’s head spin, but Rollo – a former varsity basketball player at Laurentian University who says he relishes competition – seems to be taking it all in stride. Now operating in 75 cities, GoFor is

aiming to have drivers in place in up to 150 urban centres throughout Canada and the U.S. by the end of the year. It’s also partnering with FedEx and Purolator to provide customers with a full range of delivery services. “The winner in this space is not going to be just a last-mile delivery company,” Rollo says. “They’re going to have other logistics options. We are building that out right now.”– David Sali


fill last-minute orders –​ is firing on all cylinders in its fifth year. As online commerce boomed during the pandemic, the company’s revenues skyrocketed 1,200 per cent from February to December, while its headcount has tripled in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, investors scrambled to grab a stake in what’s become one of the hottest logistics operations in North


When Ottawa-based last-mile delivery service GoFor closed its second multimillion-dollar funding round of 2020 back in December, founder Brad Rollo called a VC’s prediction that the company would become a billion-dollar enterprise “conservative.” As revenues keep rising in 2021, so does the CEO’s confidence in the firm’s future. “GoFor, without a doubt, has the potential to be a many billion-dollar company,” he says. Some might call that hubris, but Rollo doesn’t care. GoFor ​– which provides just-in-time delivery services for the likes of home reno giant Home Depot and paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams and makes software that helps customers

2021 FASTEST GROWING COMPANIES Sweet success: Dairy Distillery finds winning formula Whereas most dairy farmers see unused milk byproducts as a problem, Dairy Distillery co-founder and CEO Omid McDonald saw them as an opportunity. Since 2018, the Almonte-based distillery has been making cream liquors and other spirits from milk permeate, the liquid left over after cream, fat and proteins have been removed from whole milk for use in products such as butter, ice cream and yogurt. While milk permeate usually ends up down the drain, McDonald put the sugary substance to use. The unconventional idea has been a resounding success. McDonald, who previously launched three tech startups, says he began


making moonshine after visiting a micro-distillery in Charleston, S.C. But the real inspiration came after his cousin Neal McCarten (now a partner and director operations at Dairy Distillery) mentioned that his uncle’s dairy farm was dumping skim milk. “I discovered that this waste product

is an issue in Canada and around the world, and is a huge problem for the environment. I wondered if something could be done about it,” McDonald explains. The serial entrepreneur worked with a professor in the University of Ottawa’s biology department to perfect the process of converting milk sugar into spirits. Meanwhile, he cold-called various dairy farms around Ottawa to find a supplier of milk permeate. To McDonald’s delight, the final product was a vodka that’s tasty, lactose-free and more energy-efficient to distill than spirits made from grains or potatoes. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, a new application for milk permeate emerged. Funded by a $455,000 grant from the Ontario government, the company pivoted to create hand sanitizer for Ottawa hospitals. “When a hospital calls and asks for something, there’s really only

one answer: how much, and when?” McDonald says. Dairy Distillery is currently working on expanding into Quebec and British Columbia. The distillery is also constructing a new 6,000-square-foot production facility, which McDonald says will allow the company to triple both its output and the number of employees. —Matt Horwood

“People are not used to seeing products made for the pubic region. We are still in an awareness phase, but (we’re) loving the response we’re getting

from existing and new customers,” cofounder David Gaylord adds. Today, Bushbalm sells skincare products ranging from dark-spot treatments to exfoliating scrubs and a list of other products specifically designed for more sensitive regions. Their use isn’t limited to the pubic area. The products are often used on bikini lines, underarms, legs and any other areas of the body prone to redness or irritation from shaving or hair removal. This year, the company is launching three new products: an addition to their exfoliating scrub collection, a skinfirming cream for the buttocks called Tushbalm and an electric trimmer. Bushbalm primarily sells its wares online and via wholesalers, but the products are also found in more than 200 spas across North America. The company says it’s on pace to do nearly $10 million in sales in 2021 and hopes to add to its team of four employees. — Dani-Elle Dubé


Well-oiled machine: Bushbalm’s skincare products a hit



A financing deal with Arlene Dickinson from CBC’s Dragons’ Den might have ultimately fallen through, but that didn’t mean the end for Ottawa’s Bushbalm Skincare – in fact, the founders’ appearance on the show late last year boosted their product’s popularity. Bushbalm is an all-natural and vegan skincare brand. What makes it different is where the products are meant to be used: the ever-so-bashful pubic region. The idea came about by accident four years ago when co-founder Tim Burns and his wife were on their honeymoon. After a long day of exploring, they wanted to freshen up quickly, so Burns rubbed some of his beard oil everywhere – and we mean everywhere.


Noticing his skin felt smoother and was free of irritation and chafing, Burns and his wife knew they had an idea for a product that was missing in the lucrative skincare industry. “Everyone gets ingrown hairs and skin irritations as a result of removing body hair, but no one seemed to be talking about it,” Burns says.

Omid McDonald, co-founder and CEO. PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON

2021 FASTEST GROWING COMPANIES Pre-pandemic pivot pays off for bug-detection firm Noibu Little did Noibu’s founders know just how prescient their decision to pivot the fledgling Ottawa software firm two years ago would be. Originally conceived as a vehicle for offering 3D virtual tours of high-end retailers’ brick-and-mortar stores, the four-year-old startup changed focus in 2019 to become a bug-detection platform for e-commerce sites. Mere months later, the pandemic flipped the retail world on its head, triggering an online shopping boom. Noibu’s product went from a niche offering to a must-have service for hundreds of customers practically overnight. “It allowed us to break into some really big names,” says co-founder Kailin Noivo, rhyming off global brands such as Avon,

NOIBU YEAR FOUNDED: 2017 LOCAL HEADCOUNT: 23 THREE-YEAR REVENUE GROWTH: 960% From left, Noibu’s Kailin Noivo, Dan Cardamore, Filip Slatinac and Robert Boukine. PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON Champion and Guess among the retail giants that have signed on to Noibu’s service since last March. Noibu’s revenues soared nearly 600 per cent in 2020 as retailers realized that even minutes of selling time lost to glitches in their online stores could translate into a massive missed opportunity. Meanwhile, the firm’s headcount

has ballooned from five to 23 since the pandemic began, and Noibu expects to be at 40 employees by the end of 2021. Realizing they needed an experienced hand at the tiller to help scale the firm, Noivo and co-founders Robert Boukine and Filip Slatinac brought Dan Cardamore ​– a seasoned software developer who’d cut his teeth at Nortel,

JDS Uniphase and BlackBerry QNX –​ on board as CEO in mid-2019. Noivo says the bootstrapped venture will continue to fund its own growth and has no plans to raise a headline-grabbing VC round any time soon. “I’d say (venture capital firms) are looking at us, but we’re not looking at them,” he says. — David Sali




48 SPRING 2021

2021 FASTEST GROWING COMPANIES Expansion in the cards for e-commerce gaming enterprise Hit Point Press Hit Point Press founder Ricardo Evangelho turned a $500 investment into a multimillion-dollar company in just five years by using, well, magic. That’s magic, as in Magic: The Gathering. Much like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering is a game that lets players explore and live in a world of their own creation. While physical card sets cater to fans who play in person, the popular digital version of the card game lacked a tactile component that Evangelho wanted. “There was just no physical token to represent what the cards said you could do,” Evangelho explains. At the time, the graphic designer was looking for a way to expand his e-commerce expertise. So he sold some

HIT POINT PRESS YEAR FOUNDED: 2015 HEADCOUNT: 3 IN ONTARIO, 14 WORLDWIDE THREE-YEAR REVENUE GROWTH: 526% Hit Point Press founder Ricardo Evangelho. PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON of his collectible cards and used the proceeds to design and launch a website and market his tokens online. Using social media and Reddit, Evangelho promoted free PDFs of the tokens and cards, drawing players to his site. In 2017, that traffic resulted in sales of $190,000. Partnerships with popular streamers and vloggers helped accelerate

the company’s growth. Hit Point Press had its most successful year yet in 2020, boasting more than $4.5 million in global sales. The firm now has 14 full-time employees as well as a 7,000-square-foot printing warehouse, and offers six categories of products. Despite taking a slight hit early in the pandemic, the company rebounded

quickly thanks to its strong digital presence as people looked for things to do while cooped up indoors. In addition to numerous awards and recognition in Ottawa, Evangelho’s success earned him a spot on the board of the Ottawa-Gatineau Youth Foundation, where he helps mentor and educate young people across the region. — Jordan Haworth

Wicket brings ‘fresh mindset’ to managing nonprofit membership data WICKET YEAR FOUNDED: 2017 LOCAL HEADCOUNT: 15 THREE-YEAR REVENUE GROWTH: 383%

“Wicket is basically disrupting that market … becoming this hub of membership data where it manages all of the people and organizations that they interact with, but we integrate and connect that really important data with all the other software tools they use.” The association market typically consists of non-profit organizations, Horne says. It’s a sector that is still learning to embrace technology.

Today, Wicket has 15 employees and plans to hire more by year’s end. Horne says the bootstrapped company will take the rest of 2021 to grow its footprint in the U.S. market and build up its revenues before reaching out to potential investors. “This model we are bringing that is more flexible is going to continue to grow,” he says. “We do expect to see other companies follow suit.” — Dani-Elle Dubé


associations and the California Lawyers Association. Horne explains that many organizations currently rely on “big monolithic systems full of modules” to manage their membership data, “with the idea that one software is going to be able to do anything for your association.” His firm’s technology makes the process more effective, he says.

Wicket co-founders Jeff Horne and Laura Mindorff. PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON


Several years ago, Jeff Horne and his business partner Laura Mindorff concluded that the industry-standard association database system they were using at their website design company wasn’t as user-friendly at displaying and sorting information as they thought it should be. In true entrepreneurial fashion, they set out to build a better mousetrap. So in 2017, Horne and Mindorff launched Wicket, the world’s first member data platform for associations and professional societies. The concept quickly caught on, and Wicket now has customers across North America. Its clients include the Canadian Society of Association Executives, national health-care


50 SPRING 2021

2021 FASTEST GROWING COMPANIES Assurance Home Care a rewarding venture for well-known Ottawa entrepreneur It was about six years ago when Stephen Bleeker’s father Hans had a stroke while vacationing in Florida – a traumatic event that ended up being a lightbulb moment for Bleeker. “Our family was thrown into that world of caring for a parent,” Bleeker explains. “We were fortunate enough to be able to help him out as (children) – but it made me think that if we weren’t able to do that, who would we trust and go to for help?” Realizing many other people didn’t have that kind of family support, Bleeker and business partner Kristine McGinn started Assurance Home Care in 2015. The Ottawa-based firm provides


services such as home care, housekeeping and meal preparation for seniors and others needing support at home. It now has customers in Toronto as well as the Ottawa region, and many of its services are partly covered by private

WorldReach sees sky-high growth potential in digital passport verification tech WORLDREACH YEAR FOUNDED: 1998 HEADCOUNT: 50 THREE-YEAR REVENUE GROWTH: 278%

to include its identity verification service for EU citizens registering to stay in the United Kingdom after Brexit. President and CEO Gordon Wilson says the U.K. contract has helped springboard the company’s growth as other countries jump on board. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic grounding flights around the world, Wilson is optimistic about WorldReach’s future. “In a sense, it’s a perfect time to implement the technology” in pilot projects, he says. Canadian airports have begun testing the technology, with the European Union expected to follow suit soon. Airports across Canada are now set to adopt WorldReach’s technology on a pilot basis. Expanding its base in North America and Europe could mean the best is yet to come for the local firm. “The next customers I’m expecting to sign in the coming year could increase our transactions to five to 10 million in a year, compared to two or three million

caregivers under contract and a dozen people in its management and office staff. Next month, Assurance will be expanding into the Niagara and St. Catharines regions in southern Ontario. The company’s long-term goal is to be the most trusted name in home care in Canada – so expect to hear about it a lot more, Bleeker says. — Dani-Elle Dubé

Gordon Wilson, CEO of WorldReach. PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON over (the past) two years,” says Wilson. Since starting with a team of 12 people, WorldReach has grown to include 50 staff and plans to add more. “It has been an amazing ride,” Wilson says. — Jordan Haworth


digital passport verification services. Users complete a form on their smartphone, which is sent to the appropriate customs agency for approval. Customers then simply scan their passports and walk to their gate. In 2017, the company won a contract

insurance companies. “I was looking to start a business that had a social component,” explains Bleeker, a longtime entrepreneur who’s probably best known as the former co-owner of CD Warehouse. Bleeker says he quickly realized the business was desperately needed. The company currently has 150


While millions of people are champing at the bit to jump on planes again once the pandemic abates, it’s safe to say no one is looking forward to one aspect of international air travel: long lineups at airports. But an Ottawa company believes at least some of those annoying queues will soon be a thing of the past thanks to its technology. WorldReach has become an international leader in digital software that speeds up the process of checking travellers’ passports. The company’s revenues have jumped 400 per cent in the past three years as WorldReach has become one of five major firms to offer

Stephen Bleeker and business partner Kristine McGinn. PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON

2021 FASTEST GROWING COMPANIES Construction firm Highbridge building strong foundation for growth When Leam Hamilton first launched Highbridge Construction alongside cofounder Pat Violette in 2015, he saw it as a “fun project while we were doing other things.” Six years later, that project has blossomed into a booming business. Hamilton, who is also a principal at a local real estate agency, says the residential construction company owes its growth to its knack for hiring the right talent and a track record of happy customers who’ve generated buzz for the firm through word of mouth. Highbridge also puts a lot of effort into generating new leads using an online system that flags hundreds of new potential opportunities every month. While COVID-19 initially slowed

HIGHBRIDGE CONSTRUCTION YEAR FOUNDED: 2015 HEADCOUNT: 51 THREE-YEAR REVENUE GROWTH: 276% Pat Violette and co-founder Leam Hamilton. PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON the construction industry to a crawl, Hamilton says the pandemic ended up benefiting the company. Unable to travel, homeowners began spending more time and money on their houses, he explains. Housing values have skyrocketed in Ottawa’s red-hot residential real estate market, he adds, allowing people to “refinance their homes

and do the renovations they never got around to doing.” He says Highbridge plans to expand its operations across Ontario and eventually Canada. The company is already working on a few projects in Thunder Bay and the Greater Toronto Area. Hamilton says now that Highbridge has created an established, repeatable process

for generating leads, it can quickly and easily establish itself in new markets. “Like a McDonald’s with a fry guy and a burger guy, a lot of our back-end systems are structured similarly,” he explains. “We have people performing in specific roles and honing their skills to the point where it’s a well-oiled machine.” — Matt Horwood


The IT factor: Lightship Security becoming a tech darling



Jason Lawlor and the team at Ottawa’s Lightship Security are no strangers to exponential revenue growth. The only previous winner on this year’s list, Lightship appeared in OBJ’s top-10 rankings in 2019. The six-year-old firm has also cracked Canadian Business Magazine’s prestigious Growth 500 list of Canada’s fastest-growing companies in recent years. But navigating through one of the most tumultuous periods the global economy has ever endured makes this year’s honour extra special. “There was no playbook going into (the pandemic),” says Lawlor, who founded the firm in 2015 with business partners Greg McLearn, Brad Proffitt and Lachlan Turner. Still, Lightship continued to post


impressive numbers in 2020. The firm kept adding to its headcount throughout the year and has grown from 13 employees two years ago to 32 today. Lightship automates the process of verifying that IT hardware such as switchers and routers meets rigorous government security standards before being sold to governments themselves. Its customers include tech giants such

Two of Lightship Security’s business partners, Greg McLearn and Brad Proffitt. PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON as BlackBerry, Cisco, Dell and Samsung, and the company now has offices in Vancouver and Austin, Tex. Lawlor says its product certification software, known as Greenlight, has distilled a process that used to consume as much as a year’s worth of manual labour down to less than a month. “There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in our industry over the last several years,” he says. With 5G networks rolling out,

the bootstrapped enterprise is now partnering with local startup Field Effect on a government-funded project to automate the cybersecurity certification process for mobile technology such as smartphones. In addition, Lightship plans to make its test automation software more widely available on a subscription basis. “That’s a whole other revenue stream, being able to license that capability,” Lawlor says. — David Sali





Feeding the growing demand for local experiences SPRING 2021

The entrepreneurs betting on a tourism rebound




OBJ REGIONAL Agrotourism entrepreneurs ready to reignite Eastern Ontario tourism industry Food tours, plant subscriptions and agricultural experiences part of a new wave of regional offerings BY LAURA BYRNE PAQUET news@obj.ca


everal pandemic-era trends – an obsession with food, interest in supporting local businesses, worries for the hospitality industry and a new appreciation for local travel – are spurring a surge in agrotourism initiatives across Eastern Ontario. “People have increasingly had more interest in knowing where the food they’re eating comes from,” says Alison Migneault, director of marketing and

communications for Tourism Kingston. In 2019, her organization began developing Frontenac Farm to Kingston Table, a program designed to attract visitors by highlighting growers from nearby Frontenac County and Kingston chefs. Plans to begin promoting the program in March 2020 were derailed by COVID-19. The tourism board knew time was of the essence if it wanted to help its restaurateurs. In late March 2020, The Conference Board of Canada pinpointed Kingston as one of five communities

across Canada most at risk of a severe economic impact from COVID-19, due to the city’s high concentration of jobs in accommodation and food services. So Tourism Kingston reframed the farm-to-table promotion in fall 2020, focusing on encouraging locals to discover their region rather than on attracting visitors from further afield. “We saw a great response and a lot of interest,” says Migneault – so much so that the tourism board ran the program again in late winter 2021, drawing on $15,000 in partnership funding from the Regional Tourism Organization for South Eastern Ontario. Kingston is not the only Eastern Ontario community using food and farms to jump-start tourism (when we can all travel safely, of course). Further east, the Cornwall and SDG Counties Spark Program attracted 16 applications from entrepreneurs keen to take their tourism ideas to the next level. All of the winning applicants, who each received a $3,000 grant and tourism mentorship in late 2020, had ideas with a food or agrotourism slant.

People are looking for authentic experiences.




54 Vaness Leduc started Cornwall Food Tours with Moe Bellefeuille after participating in similar excursions in other cities and realizing Cornwall had just as much to offer. PHOTO COURTESY CORNWALL TOURISM

Among those winners were Vanessa Leduc and Moe Bellefeuille, who plan to start offering food tours of Cornwall later this year. The couple, both keen travellers, have taken food tours in places ranging from Charleston to Cancun. After each, one of them would say to the other, “Cornwall has such great food – we should be doing a tour like this in Cornwall,” says Leduc. So

they launched Cornwall Food Tours. At first, they’ll offer walking tours to sample dishes and drinks from local restaurants for bubbles of four to six people – somewhat smaller than the usual food tour group of 10 to 12. “None of this is what we were originally hoping (for),” Leduc concedes, but she’s OK with that. Starting small will allow them to fine-tune the approach. Despite the pandemic, Leduc is convinced the time is right for this business. “People are looking for authentic experiences,” she says, adding that small, outdoor tours will help locals discover homegrown food in a COVID-safe way. The couple initially planned to run a one-time event in summer 2020 as a fundraiser for Baldwin House, a local women’s shelter. Over time, that morphed into a plan to run a more extensive slate of tours, with a portion of all proceeds providing ongoing support to Baldwin House.

COMMUNITY EMPHASIS A desire to give back to the community also motivated Johnny Slack of Calabogie Family Farm – an organic livestock farm in Renfrew County – to create a new venture. In early 2021, he launched Community Blossoms. Every week or so throughout the growing season, subscribers will receive a bouquet of fresh flowers grown on the farm. Two weeks after the program opened in early January, Slack had sold half of the 50 shares, at $150 for a full share or $75 for a half share. Within six weeks, the program was completely subscribed. Community Blossoms isn’t designed as a money-maker for the farm, Slack says. Instead, he wanted to buoy people’s spirits while raising money for a good cause. “It’s about … showing that, even apart, we can be together,” he says. The family will only keep whatever money they need to buy seeds for the zinnias, baby’s breath, cosmos and other flowers they will grow. The rest of the proceeds will go to the Renfrew & District Food Bank. A strong emphasis on community also comes through when North Grenville mayor Nancy Peckford speaks about the sugarbush on the grounds of Kemptville Campus. Frank Heerkens, an experienced maple syrup producer from Chesterville,

began restoring the property’s abandoned network of about 1,000 maple taps in 2016. The lines had once been used to make syrup as part of the University of Guelph’s agroforestry program. After acquiring the property from the university in 2018, the municipality decided to rehabilitate the campus’s network of trails to complement the restored sugarbush. Not only would they give local students and teachers

a new place for COVIDsafe outdoor educational activities, but the trails would also be a valuable addition to the community’s recreational infrastructure. Before COVID, “People were travelling outside of our community to

Johnny Slack, seen holding his daughter, Lena, owns Calabogie Family Farm with his wife Emma, right. PHOTOS COURTESY CALABOGIE FAMILY FARM

visit a sugarbush, but we had one right in the middle of Kemptville,” Peckford points out. She adds that this is not the only new food and agrotourism initiative in Kemptville. In April 2020, a startup

called My Local Markets set up a website to sell a wide range of local foods – such as flour from Winchester and honey from Arnprior – and deliver it directly to consumers. My Local Markets also organized socially distanced outdoor culinary events at Kemptville Campus last summer.

Johnstown entrepreneur invests in historic restaurant BY JOE MARTELLE news@obj.ca




Lucey’s initial venture into the South Grenville market came with the construction and launch of the Windmill Brewery. The small craft beer facility opened in 2016, residing on the edge of the Johnstown Industrial Park, and immediately began to reap the rewards of its location. Located within view of the OgdensburgJohnstown International Bridge, a stone’s throw from highways 401 and 416 and with the Port of Johnstown just to the south, the industrial park

has enticed tenants such as Prysmian Cables, Greenfield Ethanol and the 750,000 square-foot Giant Tiger distribution centre. When Lucey heard the previous owners of the restaurant were looking to sell, he acted quickly. “When it officially went on the market in early 2020, we took advantage of the opportunity,” Lucey recalls, noting that the pandemic creating a buyer’s market made the decision that much easier. “We were reasonably comfortable with the assumption that you could never build a restaurant that close to the water again ... so we took the opportunity.” The end goal is to market the Bridgeview as a destination restaurant, capturing the hearts, minds and meal budgets of the thousands of tourists who frequent the Seaway region, tagging Johnstown as a stopping point for boaters, cyclists, campers, and seasonal drivers. “We’re here and we’ve got a view,” he says with a slight hint of awe in his voice. “We’ve got a chance to do something that very few people in the area can do … just because of our location.”


ocation, location, location: South Grenville entrepreneur Sean Lucey has long been aware of the answer to the age-old question of the three most important factors in determining the desirability of a property. But now the owner of Johnstown’s Bridgeview Restaurant – a business located near the shores of the St. Lawrence River that he purchased last year – is betting that its proximity to the busy waterway, international border and a growing business community will pay dividends in a post-pandemic economic rebound. While investing in a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic may sound like an unusual move to some, Lucey argues it’s an ideal opportunity. “We believe the restaurant industry will come out just as strong, if not stronger, than when it went in,” he says, predicting there will be pent-up

demand for leisure and outdoor activities as public health restrictions are eased. “The appetite coming out of COVID is going to be (for things) that gets people out of their house – ‘I want to go somewhere. Let’s go for a drive. Let’s go for a cruise. Let’s go for a bike ride. Let’s go for a boat ride,’” he argues. “Because we can accommodate all those things, we’re in an exceptionally good position to draw from far and wide.”


Merchants find fresh ways for customers to ‘Love Kingston’ amid pandemic Through partnerships and innovative offerings, business owners are connecting with tourists and local residents alike BY DANI-ELLE DUBÉ news@obj.ca





hen COVID-19 forced most nonessential retailers and service providers to close their doors last spring, business owners in Kingston – a city where many merchants rely heavily on tourist traffic – held their collective breath. “We thought, ‘Oh, it would be a couple of weeks,’ but then reality hit,” recalls Aba Mortley, the owner of CherMere Day Spa. Having previously relied on providing in-person treatments, Mortley turned to e-commerce to sell homemade beauty products, but found it difficult to cover her rent and electricity bills. “I was worrying about my staff,” she says. “How can we quickly adapt and try to mitigate the loss?” For Mortley and dozens of other merchants, part of the answer involved joining forces with one other and leveraging local economic development initiatives to raise the profile of their unique offerings in new venues to tourists and local residents alike. And, with COVID-19 cases and travel restrictions continuing to linger on the eve of a new summer tourism season, officials are hoping the investments – which included $95,000 in provincial funding earlier this year – will continue

LEFT: Aba Mortley is the owner of CherMere Day Spa. ABOVE: Josh Hayter is the president of Spearhead Brewing Co.

to pay dividends by connecting customers with local businesses.

‘HERE’S OUR STORY’ Kingston Economic Development Corp. started to lay the foundation for accelerating support for local businesses with a consumer campaign

called Love Kingston. After starting as an online directory of local businesses, the program grew into something bigger as summer rolled around and more partners came on board, says spokesperson Alison Migneault. Tourism Kingston began encouraging staycations and offered packages through the campaign. Then the city and Downtown Kingston introduced The Marketplace, a public place for pedestrians and businesses to gather. It included revamping some of the

It’s not the time to be promoting and marketing traditional tourism. – MEGAN KNOTT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VISIT KINGSTON

aesthetics of the downtown area and expanding sidewalks to create more space for patios. They also produced video profiles of the businesses, giving owners the chance to tell their stories. “It’s not the time to be promoting and marketing traditional tourism, so we really do have (to take) a localized approach,” says Megan Knott, the executive director of Visit Kingston. At Cher-Mere Day Spa, Mortley created an at-home spa-in-a-box that included her beauty products. Then Mortley got others on board to add some of their products to the boxes, such as chocolates and candles, which helped promote her local partners. “Love Kingston really highlighted local and rallied to collaborate and support businesses,” Mortley says. “It kept me top-of-mind for people and let them know that we were here, here’s our story and here’s how you can engage with us.” Kingston-based Spearhead Brewing Co. was also hit hard by the dramatic drop in the number of visitors to the city. Not only were fewer customers coming to Spearhead’s brewery, but bars and restaurants were operating at reduced capacity, meaning many clients were curtailing their regular beer orders. Spearhead was another business that benefited from Love Kingston as it set up a satellite shop in a hightraffic location. Spearhead president Josh Hayter says the company also got creative to ensure it was helping to support other local businesses. “(Love Kingston) had us (in the marketplace) so we were at least able to extend our footprint into the downtown,” Hayter says. “What we didn’t want to do was have people in the square, buying beer from us and then not go to the restaurants around. So, we gave out coupons to those restaurants along with our beer.” This year, the downtown marketplace will continue, as will patio expansions and street closures. Key attractions — such as cruises and trolly tours — will reopen. “We need to love our community and we need to love it quickly,” Knott says. “That’s the premise: love the community, the experience and shopkeepers.”

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Opportunities for Small Business

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1000 Islands and Rideau Canal Waterways


LEFT: Steve St. Michael holds a print of the pre-music mill, noting the historic building helped shape Renfrew. ABOVE: The popular Mill Music complex, known for its extensive collection of guitars, is expanding to include a cannabis shop. PHOTOS BY TOM VAN DUSEN

Renfrew’s iconic Mill Music adding a little buzz to the mix Gordon Lightfoot, Burton Cummings among the performers who’ve browsed the shop’s instruments BY TOM VAN DUSEN news@obj.ca





ith its silo painted bright yellow, the repurposed flour mill on Raglan Street – the Town of Renfrew’s main drag – is an eye-catching local landmark. But not just because of its close to century-old history as a former agricultural processing plant. For the past 38 years, the sign on the silo has read Mill Music and the beloved building has garnered a new reputation as one of the largest instrument stores – particularly for its selection of guitars – in Renfrew County and way beyond. Soon it’ll have another sign and another sales stream: Cannabis 228, owner Steve St. Michael’s plunge into the legal pot market, a separate operation in another part of the Mill complex. Expected to open at the end of May, this venture will mark the town’s third government-regulated cannabis store.

St. Michael is a former performer who over the years has welcomed the likes of Gordon Lightfoot and Burton Cummings looking for that something special among his floor-to-ceiling guitars. St. Michael’s own playing ability once got him a gig with The Good Brothers, who recorded a song he wrote. Raised in Renfrew, St. Michael moved to a nearby dairy farm at age 14, trading the life of a “town boy for that of a chore boy.” He wanted to get into farming as a career but couldn’t borrow the capital. He headed out on the road for 12 years, eventually circling back to establish Mill Music.

RENEWAL PLANNED At last count, there were 500 guitars of every shape and make hanging in Mill Music, a number St. Michael refers to as “low inventory.” Protocols surrounding COVID-19 shut him down for a total of

five months over the past year and also hampered his orders from factories and suppliers. While most of his focus now is on jumping the hurdles to open the cannabis shop, some important milestones are coming up in 2023 and St. Michael wants to recognize them in fitting fashion: The 100th anniversary of the mill, the 40th anniversary of his store, and his own 70th birthday. He says a facelift is in order – for the building, that is – and he’s in the process of surveying customers for their input. He has a framed print that shows the mill in bygone days with some of its more historic details. He’d like to return some of those touches as part of a renewal project. Over the years, a lot of people have come through the Mill Music doors and most have expressed an opinion about the yellow tower, almost uniformly that they like it and don’t want to see it

changed other than a spruce-up. So the yellow colour is pretty much sacred. But the building, which also contains St. Michael’s living quarters, is in line for general repairs, upgrades and new landscaping. Where the money is going to come from is unclear, with St. Michael stating the store doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover full improvements, especially since COVID-19 broke onto the scene. He says he’s not the type to seek financial assistance and will likely find a way to fund the project himself, possibly with some grants such as ones offered by the town for new signage. Joking that there’s bound to be overlap between Mill Music and Cannabis 228 customers, St. Michael is hoping the new business – in which he invested $200,000, mostly to meet government requirements – will add substantially to the revenue stream. It’ll bring up to 10 new jobs to Renfrew, with four now employed at the Music Mill. The current mill was built by Thomas Low after the original structure burned. Back in the day, it was seen to be among Ontario’s better flour mills. In 1929, Ottawa Valley Grain Products acquired the mill and shifted to registered seed sales, split pea processing and feed manufacturing. OVGP owned the mill until St. Michael completely changed its tune by turning it into a music mecca.





SigmaPoint’s executives say focusing on efficiency, quality and responsiveness help it compete with low-cost competitors.

SigmaPoint leads charge to ‘reshore’ advanced manufacturing Cornwall-based electronics manufacturer has used a lean enterprise approach to help build 10,000 respirators in three months – and the rest of Canada is taking notice BY TONY MARTINS news@obj.ca





n manufacturing, is cheaper automatically better? Does volume always trump value? These questions – and some unconventional answers – are key to the philosophy that drives CEO Dan Bergeron and his colleagues at SigmaPoint. This niche electronics manufacturer based in Cornwall is making big waves by going head-to-head with low-cost competitors in places like China – and winning. “About 15 years ago, we decided to differentiate from big, tier-one players with what we call a lean enterprise,” says Bergeron. “Our pitch was rather than taking the waste associated with manufacturing and going to a lowcost economy – China or Vietnam or what have you – why don’t we have a

system that removes the waste so that we greatly increase efficiency, quality and responsiveness and simultaneously reduce lead time?” SigmaPoint specializes in rapid prototyping and end-to-end assembly, offering a full suite of engineering services applicable across industries. Clients have included NASA, the Canadian military and producers of medical devices. Considering recent manufacturing and economic trends wherein observers see great value in reshoring (i.e., bringing the industry back to Canadian shores), it’s easy to see how SigmaPoint was ahead of its time – and how their foresight is paying off. Last year the company made national news when the COVID-19 pandemic created an urgent need for respirators. SigmaPoint joined forces with Canadian aerospace leader CAE and the federal government to produce 10,000

ventilators for distribution across Canada in just three months. “People in North America have realized we’re really depending too much on foreign companies,” explains Bergeron. “So it just makes sense that we start bringing manufacturing back into our own country.”

‘MANUFACTURING NEVER LEFT’ SigmaPoint is a leading light in the reshoring trend but the company is far from alone. Observers such as Bob Peters of Cornwall Economic Development see a growing manufacturing shift in many industries across Canada. Once reliant primarily on plants and mills, Cornwall’s economy has diversified in recent years and local manufacturers have evolved to remain a viable force. “Cornwall’s manufacturers had to become more efficient, more globally competitive, and now have stronger operational and business plans so they can weather both dips and surges in demand,” says Peters. Noting how the SigmaPoint success story has shed new light on the agility of Canadian manufacturing, Peters adds, “There’s been a growing recognition in the last year that has taught us that manufacturing never left. It never left Canada, it never left Eastern Ontario, never left Cornwall. It’s still here.” SigmaPoint made the news again this March when the company received a $1 million funding boost from the federal government. Bergeron says the company will use the loan to grow its workforce and add process technology in pursuit of


Key moments in SigmaPoint’s strategy for greater manufacturing speed and efficiency. 2006-07: SigmaPoint leadership commits to a “lean enterprise” philosophy to reduce waste, maximize efficiency and compete with low-cost manufacturing done overseas. DECEMBER 2017: SigmaPoint invests $1M in new technology to accelerate prototyping, leading to new contracts with Kontron Canada and others who transfer production lines away from China. SEPTEMBER 2020: SigmaPoint partners with the federal government and Canadian aerospace leader CAE to produce 10,000 respirators for distribution across Canada. MARCH 2021: SigmaPoint receives a $1M loan from the federal government that it will use to add employees and introduce analytics for increased efficiency and capacity.

even greater efficiencies. “We’ve been at it for 15 years,” explains Bergeron on the company’s determination. “And to be honest with you, I want to have jobs in Canada. We need to create jobs.”


Live, work, play P




Renfrew County and the Ottawa Valley are a veritable all-season and all-sport recreational paradise. Hike, ski and board the mountains, or get invigorated on the abundance of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. Bike the trails, gravel and blacktop from spring through fall, or fat bike all winter long. Join the motorcyclists who fall in love each year with our country roads. Fish, hunt and commune with nature across thousands of square kilometres of crown land plus majestic rivers and over 900 lakes. Enjoy endless paddling, motor boating and sailing as well as world-class whitewater for dynamic descents. After your adventures, a burgeoning local food and beverage scene is waiting for you to relax and relive your adventures.


Check us out at Renfrew County Economic Development and Investment Services 613.735.0091 | www.InvestRenfrewCounty.com



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Renfrew County offers surprisingly diverse opportunities for career development. Above and beyond the traditional and still thriving forestry and agricultural sectors, there exists a variety of other career options. Work within aerospace and defense manufacturing, science and technology R&D, pharmaceuticals, construction, tourism, food and beverage, health care and more. Whether you are an entrepreneur planning your next start-up business, a high tech employee working from home, a chef, an artist or an executive looking for a fresh change, shift your focus for work life balance in our direction.

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Starting just 25 minutes west of Kanata, Renfrew County boasts quintessential small towns, welcoming communities and natural rural environments. Travel picturesque country roads, enjoy forest trails and explore rivers and lakes. Make your new home in a town or community where you know your neighbors, your kids can safely walk to school or downtown, you can watch shimmering sunsets over the water in front of your home and you have the space to breathe and grow. Experience a more affordable and relaxed rural lifestyle, where your backyard truly beckons and you have the time to enjoy it.

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Discover the many towns, trails and paddle routes throughout Renfrew County. A short drive west of Ottawa, you find adventure in nature, food, art and music, all wrapped in a friendly and relaxing rural culture.


62 SPRING 2021

OBJ REGIONAL: VIDEO In a series of video interviews, OBJ’s Mark Van Dusen speaks to Eastern Ontario’s entrepreneurs, business executives and political leaders to explore the trends shaping the region’s economy. Through his conversations, Van Dusen uncovers stories of innovation, industry leadership and perseverance. To watch the full series, visit obj.ca/videos. ‘ORGANIC’ GROWTH: CORNWALL SOAP MAKER DEEPENS EUROPEAN INROADS A Cornwall soap manufacturer that’s steadily grown from selling its wares at farmers’ markets to fulfilling hundreds of orders each week is preparing to expand internationally in 2021, pushing into the U.S. and expanding its reach in Europe. Ground Soap was launched more than a decade ago with an eye to filling a perceived void for natural skin-care products left by some larger cosmetics companies as they branched into new products. Glenn Forrester, who co-founded Ground

Soap with Angela Youngs, concedes that he didn’t foresee the full market potential in the early days of the business. “It’s staggering where we find ourselves now,” Forrester says. “We’re making something that people really value – there’s no better feeling.”

OTTAWA VALLEY TOURISM INDUSTRY READIES FOR 2022 WINTER GAMES Thousands of athletes, coaches and officials from across the province are slated to descend on the Ottawa Valley in slightly less than a year – providing a welcome boost to the region’s tourism industry. The 2022 Ontario Winter Games will take place across Renfrew County, Pembroke and the west end of Ottawa in late February and early March. That’s expected to spur significant demand for accommodations and other services. “We’re expecting 6,000 people – we’re going to have to find room for them all,” says Mark Bru, the owner of Square Timber Brewing Co. and a member of the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association. He adds that the games provide an “amazing opportunity” to raise the region’s profile, showcasing its amenities and encouraging participants and spectators to return for a future visit.

STUFF Made and Built In Eastern Ontario Read the digital edition at stuffmadeandbuilt.ca PARTNERS






New Barrhaven apartment development opens opportunities for homeowners After spending years building up equity in their home, Ottawa residents have a new opportunity to unlock the pent-up value of their property and capitalize on the city’s hot real estate market. At Lépine Apartment’s new Howard Grant Terrace development in Barrhaven, residents enjoy a lifestyle that many previously thought was out of reach. Described as “resort-style living,” the rental community is the latest in a string of Lépine development projects offering luxurious, comfortable and sustainable living options.



Looking to transition to a luxury apartment? Lépine Apartments has a number of locations across the Ottawa region for you to explore. Schedule a viewing at one of their many locations today:



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Howard Grant (Barrhaven) Johanne’s Court (Carleton Place) Lépine Lodge (Renfrew) Les Terrasses Francesca (Overbrook) Saint Émilion (Kanata) The Normand (Kanata)

Featuring spacious apartments, an on-site pool and fitness centre, as well as outdoor BBQ and lounge areas, the development is the perfect place for families, retirees and work-from-home professionals. “We are reinventing apartment living by creating bright and airy living spaces,” explains company president Francis Lépine. “There is a home for everyone at Howard Grant.” A NEW LUXURY LIFESTYLE For many residents, choosing to “right-size” to an apartment can be a big decision. The first step is typically to speak to a trusted realtor who can help you understand the true value of your current home. From there, a real estate agent can assist you in identifying communities that fit your desired lifestyle. “Anxious to maintain the comfort and standard of living they’ve come to enjoy over decades, individuals and couples continue to want roomy, well-built and well-equipped apartments in buildings that offer good neighbours and a range of amenities,” says leasing agent Stacie Willson. Units at the Howard Grant Terrace are designed with an open-concept flow and 10-foot high ceilings. They also feature panoramic windows, adding to the expansive feel of the space. The large eat-in kitchens with granite OBJ360 CONTENT STUDIO

countertops and hardwood floors rival those of a family-style home and showcase Lépine’s dedication to using quality building materials. The ecofriendly fixtures and materials extend into the unit’s bathroom, which also includes in-suite laundry. GREATER FREEDOM, FLEXIBILITY The move from a family-style home to a luxury apartment can save residents money in the long run. Removing the need for repair costs, landscaping and a mortgage payment, apartment living gives tenants the freedom to come and go as they please, without worrying about property upkeep. And with Ottawa’s hot housing market, residents typically stand to profit from the sale of their home. “Most residents were previously living in a house that they loved, but they chose to move because they didn’t want to be tied down by a property,” says Lépine. “It could be as simple as wanting to travel more or not wanting to deal with the snow and the grass.” Lépine’s Howard Grant Terrace development is located minutes away from the community’s main shopping district and is a short drive to Chapman Mills. With nearby access to public transit, local community centres and eateries, the Howard Grant Terrace in Barrhaven is the perfect place for your next home.

OBJ AD.qxp 2021-03-17 9:41 AM Page 1

From main street to the tech labs

retailers • small businesses • entrepreneurs • associations • community builders

Supporting Businesses in Kanata and West Carleton Financial Help for COVID-19 Expenses The Provincial Government is providing business owners with grant funding, workplace safety and educational resources, and relief for operating costs — from property taxes to energy bills. Learn more at covid-19.ontario.ca/covid-19-help-businesses-ontario

Promoting the High Tech Sector Kanata’s high tech scene is turning heads at Queen’s Park — and around the world. MPP Fullerton has established a framework to collaborate with local business leaders on current issues and to profile local technology innovations and success stories.

Shop Local Campaign

Last year, the Kanata North Business Association met with senior Ontario ministers on “Kanata North Day” at Queen’s Park

The MPP awareness campaign encourages residents to buy from neighbourhood stores and local plazas and malls. Shopping at local retailers provides employment, carries the expenses of the store, and our money remains in our community.

Championing Local Interests There are regular meetings with local business leaders

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Kanata-Carleton MPP


613-599-3000 • merrilee.fullerton@pc.ola.org • merrileefullerton.ca


MPP Fullerton is working to advance business interests in Kanata and West Carleton within the Provincial Government. Contact her MPP Community Office to learn more about her objectives with the Kanata-Carleton’s High Tech and Business Initiative. Learn more at www.merrileefullerton.ca/ kanata_carleton_s_high_tech_and_business_initiative_fall_2020_snapshot_report


Tyler Eyamie is co-founder and CEO of Ottawa-based subscription billing platform Fusebill. PHOTO COURTESY TYLER EYAMIE

Fusebill secures investment from Florida fintech firm Revenues at Kanata-based company up 150% over last three years





ttawa-based subscription billing platform Fusebill has landed a major investment from an emerging Florida fintech powerhouse as it seeks to make a bigger splash south of the border. Fattmerchant, an Orlando-based firm that develops payment processing software, said it’s acquired a majority stake in the Canadian fintech enterprise. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Founded in 2011, Fusebill has carved out a growing niche with its subscription billing and management platform aimed at small and medium-

sized businesses. The firm’s revenues have risen more than 150 per cent over the past three years as more companies move to subscription-based models. Fusebill, which secured a $6-million venture capital financing round in 2016, considered going the VC route again as it sought to accelerate its ascent and push harder into the U.S., where 95 per cent of its customers are located. But CEO and co-founder Tyler Eyamie said that after scouring the capital markets, he and his team concluded that it might be more effective to join forces with a rising

industry leader in the American fintech space. Fattmerchant fit the bill. The seven-year-old firm ranked second on the Orlando Business Journal’s list of central Florida’s fastest-growing companies in 2020, with three-year growth of more than 450 per cent and revenues of US$11 million in 2019. Its sales continued to surge during the pandemic. “Our space is kind of having a moment, in my opinion,” Eyamie told OBJ. “There’s a lot of competitors receiving ridiculous amounts of capital at ridiculous valuations. We’ve always had that David vs. Goliath, Canada vs. the U.S. type issue where there’s not a ton of venture capital funding flowing into Canada like there is in the U.S.

“Building a company is hard. It takes time and effort, and we think that this path is the absolute best path.” Tennessee investment firm Greater Sum Ventures, which purchased a majority stake in Fattmerchant late last year, introduced the two companies last summer after sensing the potential upside of a union. Fattmerchant co-founder and CEO Suneera Madhani said she clicked with her Canadian counterparts from the get-go. “The first day we met Tyler and his team, we felt like we were two peas in a pod,” said Madhani, whose firm employs about 130 people. The new business partners see plenty of synergies between their product offerings. While Fusebill focuses on helping customers manage their billing systems, Fattmerchant’s software enables merchants to process payments across multiple platforms, including on mobile devices. “To offer our customers a single system of payments and subscription billing … just makes so much sense for us,” Eyamie explained.

BIGGER GLOBAL FOOTPRINT Madhani agreed. She said joining forces with Fusebill, which also has customers in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, will help Fattmerchant expand its global footprint as well as its product base. “Being able to take Fusebill’s software and embed that into our software just makes our software more powerful for our customers,” said Madhani. “This is a really huge milestone for both our companies. I think it’s just a ‘better together’ story.” Now at 43 employees, Fusebill will remain an independent company headquartered in Ottawa. Eyamie said the two companies are still figuring out exactly how they’re going to integrate their operations. “The biggest thing for us is just not to boil the ocean,” he said. “We’re building out a very thoughtful and methodical plan to make sure that we’re doing this together.”




A brand new ecosystem for Industry, Academic and Finance partners to co-exist and collaborate in the heart of Kanata North.



68 SPRING 2021

Future is secure for Ottawa ID verification firm Bluink Software venture’s founder sees big things in the cards for app that digitizes driver’s licences, passports and other documents BY DAVID SALI




The firm’s breakout year is about to get even better. Bluink is on the verge of signing a deal with a “large cross-Canada company” that plans to use its tech to verify the identities of potential clients. Borza can’t name the firm just yet, but he says it’s the kind of contract that can put a fledgling business on the



hile March 2020 will always remain indelibly etched in Steve Borza’s memory for the obvious reasons, the beginning of the pandemic also marked a comingof-age for the Ottawa entrepreneur’s company. Borza is the founder and chief executive of ID authentication firm Bluink. The local enterprise has spent

a decade perfecting an app that stores digital versions of government-issued documents such as driver’s licences, provincial health cards and passports on a user’s smartphone. Bluink initially won a contract from the Ontario Liberal government under then-premier Kathleen Wynne to pilot its technology more than three years ago. But the deal was put on hold when Doug Ford’s Conservatives came to power in 2018, and it took a while for the Ottawa venture to regain its momentum.

Bluink finally got its servers up and running on March 10, 2020. Its app, called eID-Me, was ready to serve users in Ontario and other Canadian provinces. “That was a big day for us,” says Borza, a Carleton engineering grad who launched Bluink in 2010 after a career that included a stint working on artificial-heart components at the Ottawa Heart Institute and a four-year run as an R&D tax specialist at Deloitte. Of course, not everything went exactly according to plan. The platform ​ – which uses AI facial-recognition software to verify a user’s identity –​ needed to be tweaked so it worked on a range of operating systems and recognized different versions of health cards and other documents. “We found out what was broken pretty quickly and went about fixing it,” Borza says. A year later, the 16-person company is poised to take a giant step forward as it taps into the health-care and border security sectors. Bluink recently inked a partnership with the Montfort Hospital and the Orléans Health Hub that will allow patients to register and access their medical records by scanning their phones at special kiosks. Meanwhile, the Canada Border Services Agency will soon let eID-Me’s users scan their e-passports at airports, which Borza calls “a big win” for the firm.

proverbial hockey-stick-like growth trajectory. “It’s a company everyone knows and uses,” he teases. “Once we announce, people will understand. It’s a massive partnership opportunity.” Borza sees huge upside in the ID verification market. It’s one thing to eliminate the need for physical documents, but Bluink’s app also makes it much easier for financial institutions, real estate firms and other entities to confirm that potential clients are who they say they are. For example, rather than simply taking a buyer’s word for it, online cannabis retailers now use Bluink’s platform to verify that consumers are of legal age before approving a sale. Users must enter a special code sent to their smartphone before the buy can proceed. In addition, Diamond and Diamond, a Toronto-based law firm, has just begun using eID-Me for real estate transactions. Borza expects many more customers to join them soon. That could translate into a nice income stream for Bluink, which charges its customers a fee for every transaction that requires the app. “It’s a big market,” says Borza, noting that the federal government alone conducts 400,000 background checks on contractors and employees every year – a process he says could be done much more efficiently with his app. “It’s not a few thousand transactions, it’s hundreds of thousands. As a company, we are turning the corner into commercial success.” Bluink initially stores all data from user documents at a secure site in Kanata. However, Borza explains that all private information is deleted from its servers once a digital wallet has been set up. Aside from $125,000 in angel funding and backing from Borza’s family and friends, Bluink has been self-financed. Borza predicts the company will be cash-flow-positive before the end of the year as it builds its recurring revenue stream, adding that Bluink is attracting interest from potential investors on both sides of the border. “I think once our big announcement of our partnership with a very large organization comes out, there will be a lot more people kicking our tires to invest,” he says.


Industry partnerships pave the way for a new generation of engineers University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Engineering works with businesses to ensure graduates are ready to tackle real-world challenges on day one


s local tech firms look for top-tier talent in a tight labour market, a local academic institution is taking an innovative approach to ensure its students are at the top of the hiring list. The University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Engineering is partnering with local industry leaders to provide students with coop opportunities, internships and hands-on training to help them develop the working skills they need to be successful both inside and outside of the classroom. The faculty and its partners have designed new technical training programs and course material for students at all stages of their education, focusing on subjects such as machine learning, cloud computing and business communication. Through these new education opportunities, the Faculty of Engineering is helping to meet the evolving needs of employers while ensuring its students seamlessly transfer their skills to the workplace, says Jacques Beauvais, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at uOttawa. “We don’t want our students to have a purely textbook learning experience,” says Beauvais. “We are finding ways to connect them with companies that are working on the latest technologies so they can learn about the future of engineering first-hand.”


Connecting with CENGN



To bridge the gap between industry and academia, the Faculty of Engineering is developing new programs alongside leading industry players such as local telecom consortium CENGN. The organization counts Bell, Cisco, Nokia and other industry heavyweights among its members. The Faculty of Engineering recently deepened its partnership with the organization by licensing CENGN’s Cloud Computing Specialist certification program so the material could be included in a course for graduate and fourth year undergraduate students. This is a certification that all technical interns of CENGN earn when onboarded by the company.

Jacques Beauvais, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at uOttawa.

“Because we are working on such cutting-edge technologies, every student that we’ve ever had work with us had to go through this intensive training before they could really be productive,” says Peter Heath, senior manager of training programs at CENGN. “The University of Ottawa saw the value in that particular training and the partnership grew from there.” Participants in the program gain critical data analysis skills, a deeper understanding of cloud computing software and hands-on lab experience. They also receive credits towards their uOttawa degree, as well as CENGN badges they can include on their social media profile to help them showcase their skills. In addition, the Faculty of Engineering worked with CENGN and the university’s Professional Development Institute (PDI) to build out a cloud computing program for private and public-sector professionals. This continuing education program includes six self-paced online courses from CENGN that are centered around DevOps, opensource coding software and machine learning. Now in its second year, the program has garnered a lot of attention from both students and working professionals looking to beef up their resumes, says Liam Peyton, vice-dean of graduate studies at the Faculty of Engineering. “PhD students, masters students and fourth-year undergrad students are interested in this program because they understand it will make them stand out in the job market,” says Peyton. “This is the cherry on top of their education.” The online training program also provides students with unparalleled hands-on learning using CENGN technology. Oftentimes students will only have access to a simulator or some type of stripped-down software that doesn’t give a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to work with a technology, says Heath. In this case, participants OBJ360 CONTENT STUDIO

uOttawa Engineering increases connections On top of the Faculty of Engineering’s work with CENGN, the school is developing other industry partnerships, including: • KeyPath Education: To create a world-class online learning experience for Canadians working full-time, the faculty partnered with Toronto-based KeyPath Education to deliver its fully online Masters in Engineering Management program, with application-to-graduation personalized online support for students. • Mitacs: As a way to help foster new partnerships with businesses and organizations in Ottawa, the faculty is working with Mitacs, a Canadian non-profit that provides funding for research projects. Offsetting the cost of these projects helps the university open doors to new partnerships and training opportunities. • Professional Development Institute: To further its lifelong learning initiative, the Faculty of Engineering is partnering with the PDI to develop training courses for career professionals looking to build on their skills. Included in these programs is the CENGN course as well as a new offering from the uOttawa Engineering Sales School: Business Communication and Influence program.

will learn on CENGN’s production-grade cloud platform, giving students first-hand experience that they can take directly to industry. “CENGN’s goal is to position Canada as an innovator and that’s exactly what we are doing through this partnership,” adds Heath. “We are isolating the skills that the world’s largest networking firms are looking for and bringing that directly to the next generation of workers.”


Airbrowz looks to help Ottawa merchants capitalize on ‘shop local’ push

Delivers interviews with Ottawa’s hottest startups and coolest tech execs. Visit bit.ly/TechopiaLive for the latest episodes.


Field Effect tackles ‘neglected’ markets

Capital Angel Network investments hit $4.1M



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After hitting a bit of a lull early in the pandemic, the firm is targeting revenue growth of 50% in 2021. Read the full story at obj.ca/techopia.














1971 2021



613.238.2022 • perlaw.ca





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OBJ.social is supported by the generous patronage of Mark Motors, Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties and the National Arts Centre. STORIES AND PHOTOS BY CAROLINE PHILLIPS


Out of darkness comes inspiration at Royal Ottawa awards evening


recorded messages. “Support for mental health is needed now more than ever, and the work being done to recognize and celebrate people committed to breaking down the stigma around it is so important,” she said. Inspiration Awards committee chair Jane Duchscher was there to express her gratitude and pride toward this year’s group of award recipients, describing them as “ordinary people who have done extraordinary things” in the area of mental health. She also sits on the board of the Royal Ottawa Foundation. Organizers capped the number of people in the venue at 25. It was a tiny crowd compared to the nearly 600 people who attended last year’s blacktie awards gala. The 2020 event took place only a week before large parts of the country started to shut down due to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. Each award recipient was allowed to bring a guest, with whom they sat at their own small table off to the side with drinks and charcuterie. Everyone wore face masks except for when recipients sat down for a brief “fireside chat” with Campanelli in front of the cameras.


What a difference a year makes. While the 2021 Virtual Inspiration Awards held at the downtown Delta Hotel was a much smaller event than last year’s grand and splendid affair, it was certainly no less special. The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health honoured Carleton University president Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Michael Dixon, Charlotte Smith and Samantha Nadon for work they’re doing in the community to tackle mental health stigma and to raise awareness. Clinical neuroscience researcher Jennifer Phillips received the Young Researcher Inspiration Award for her ongoing studies on depression and suicide prevention. A net total of more than $415,000 was raised for patient care and mental health research at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. The evening was hosted by Canadian television personality Rick Campanelli, former co-host of Entertainment Tonight Canada and a fan-favourite MuchMusic VJ from back in the ‘90s. Many of the business sponsors, including Tara-Lynn Hughes, senior vice-president of returning presenting sponsor TD Bank, spoke via pre-


OBJ.social is supported by the generous patronage of Mark Motors, Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties and the National Arts Centre. STORIES AND PHOTOS BY CAROLINE PHILLIPS


Clean Water Works employees rally around colleague with drive-by parade Some companies send sympathy cards. Others send flowers. But a special few – including Clean Water Works – organize a surprise drive-by, get-well parade of vehicles to show their love and support for one of their sick employees. A fleet of 20 cars, vans and trucks

arrived exactly on schedule at 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning in March and slowly filed past the Casselman home of cancer patient Chris Boulerice, who works as a senior plumber in the plumbing division of CCW, a national sewer inspection and rehabilitation firm.

The drivers gave short blasts of their horns as they passed by their co-worker’s rural residence, where he lives on his own. They next erected a large Get Well Soon banner, held up by hockey sticks, on the front lawn of Boulerice’s home. It was signed by dozens of employees and featured two logos: CWW and his team of choice, the Habs. It was project manager Claire Collin who came up with the idea, working with Luc Renaud, general manager of plumbing and environmental, and

plumbing manager Mitch Lajoie to pull the plan together. “We’re kind of an army,” Renaud explained. “When one of our soldiers is







74 Land Rover Hunt Club

295 West Hunt Club Road




down, we’re here to help him in his battle.” Boulerice watched events unfold from his driveway and was seen later exchanging quick hugs and handshakes with his colleagues, who gathered around to say a few supportive words before jumping back into their vehicles and driving away, with a flurry of farewell honks. “It’s unbelievable,” Paul McCarney,

president and CEO of Clean Water Works said of the employees’ compassion. “These are co-workers genuinely concerned about the health and wellbeing of another co-worker, coming in after a 50- or 60-hour workweek on their own time on a Saturday and driving out to his house to surprise him. “You can’t ask for a better display of (a) culture of love at work.”

OPENING April 21st !

The Destination on Charleston Lake - $12,000,000 613.842.5000 | dreamproperties.com




76 SPRING 2021

1 2


400-55 Metcalfe St. Ottawa, ON K1P 6L5 613-236-7777 / 613-236-5958 cwottawa.com CBRE 333 Preston St., 7th floor, Preston Square Tower 1 Ottawa, ON K1S 5N4 613-782-2266 / 613-782-2296 cbre.ca


Colliers International 930-340 Albert St. Ottawa, ON K1R 7Y6 613-567-8050 / 613-567-8035 colliers.com/ottawa



Royal LePage Team Realty 1723 Carling Ave. Ottawa, ON K2A 1C8 Company/Address 613-725-1171 / 613-725-3323 Phone/Fax/Web searchcommercialrealestate.ca


1 23



executive vice-president and managing director

multi-family and investment sales; property tax consulting; appraisal; project management; lease administration; market research; advisory and consulting services.


Tenant representation; office; industrial and retail leasing and sales; investment and multi-residential sales; consulting/ client advisory services; project management; appraisal; property management.


1 (RANKED BY 5 NUMBER 1992 Warren Wilkinson Leasing (landlord and tenant representation); investment OF LOCAL COMMERCIAL BROKERS) 48 managing director sales; real estate management services; valuation and advisory services.

12 No. of brokers doing more than 50% (in dollar value) of their work in commercial real estate

No. 240of national commercial agents

Local 13 offices 0 / national offices

N/A Local support staff

2002 Year established in Ottawa


Cushman & Wakefield Ottawa Avison Young 400-55 800-45 Metcalfe O’ConnorSt. St.Ottawa, Ottawa,ON ONK1P K1P6L5 1A4 613-236-7777 613-567-2680//613-236-5958 613-567-2671 cwottawa.com avisonyoung.com

17 10

422 250

11 22 16

6 6

2009 2007

2 5

CBRE 21 Explorer Realty Century 333 Preston St., 7th Preston Square 23-2525 Carling Ave.floor, Ottawa, ON K2B 7Z2Tower 1 Ottawa, ON K1S 5N4 613-253-4253 / 613-257-2593 613-782-2266 / 613-782-2296 century21explorer.ca cbre.ca Royal LePage Performance Realty Colliers International 165 Pretoria Ave. Ottawa, ON K1S 1X1 930-340 Albert St. Ottawa, ON K1R 7Y6 613-238-2801 / 613-238-4583 613-567-8050 / 613-567-8035 performancecommercial.ca colliers.com/ottawa Marcus & Millichap* Royal LePage Team Realty 301-275 Bank St. Ottawa, ON K2P 2L6 1723 Carling Ave. Ottawa, ON K2A 1C8 613-364-2300 / 613-364-2310 613-725-1171 / 613-725-3323 marcusmillichap.ca searchcommercialrealestate.ca

15 10

415 0

51 23 0

7 5

8 13

132 490

3 1 38 48

7 12

82 240

5 9

Avison ColdwellYoung Banker First Ottawa Realty 800-45 O’Connor Ottawa, ON K1P 1A4 2 Hobin St. Ottawa,St. ON K2S 1C3 613-567-2680 // 613-831-9626 613-567-2671 613-831-9628 avisonyoung.com firstottawarealty.com

10 6

5 9

Century 21Commercial Explorer Realty Capworth Realty Brokerage 23-2525 Ave.St.Ottawa, 204-240 Carling Catherine Ottawa,ON ONK2B K2P7Z2 2G8 613-253-4253 / 613-257-2593 613-601-1353 century21explorer.ca capworthrealty.com

7 11

Rick Eisert broker and manager

Full service: commercial sales and leasing; tenant representation.

Top local executive

Services offered

Nathan Smith Michael Church executive vice-president managing director and and managing director principal

Full service: commercial: office, industrial and office/industrial/retail; retail leasing; land, Full-service leasing; multi-family and investment sales;asset property tax consulting; multi-residential and apartments; management; appraisal;management; project management; lease administration; property mortgage brokerage; investment marketappraisal. research; advisory and consulting services. sales;

1999 2004

WND Shaw Ralph CEO and broker of record

Tenant representation; office;leasing; industrial and retail leasing Full service: Retail and office land sales; commercial and sales; investment and multi-residential consulting/ and industrial sales and leasing; agriculture;sales; mortgage client advisory services; project management; appraisal; financing. property management.

6 5

2002 1992

John Rogan Warren Wilkinson broker of record managing director

Office, industrial, land and retail sales and leasing; tenant Leasing (landlord and tenantsales; representation); investment representation; investment multi-residential; seniors sales; realproperty estate management valuation and housing; management;services; consulting and advisory advisory services. services.

2 13 7 0

8 N/A

2018 2002

Aik Aliferis Rick Sam Eisert Firestone broker and manager Nick Pantieras senior managing directors

Brokerage and advisory firm serving institutional, public and Full service: commercial sales and private leasing;owners, tenant major multinational corporate investors, representation. space users, developers and lenders.

250 150

51 16 20

6 10

2007 1994

Michael Church Ross Webley managing director and president and broker principal of record

Full-service commercial:office, leasing; office/industrial/retail; Tenant representation; industrial, commercial, land multi-residential apartments; asset management; and retail leasing;and investment sales; advisory and consulting property management; services; business sales.mortgage brokerage; investment sales; appraisal.

10 6

0 16

51 0 5

5 2

2004 2016

Ralph Shank Shaw Denis CEO and broker of president and managing record partner

Full service: Retail and office land sales; commercial Tenant representation; buyerleasing; representation; ownership and industrial sales and leasing; agriculture; mortgage leasing representation. financing.

Royal LePage Performance Realty Coldwell Banker Rhodes & Co. 165 Pretoria Ave. Ottawa, ONON K1SK2P 1X1 1B6 102-100 Argyle Ave. Ottawa, 613-238-2801 / 613-238-4583 613-236-9551 613-236-2692 performancecommercial.ca cbrhodes.com

8 5

132 N/A

31 38 0

6 8

2002 1940

John Rogan Sarah Kiraly broker of record

Office, industrial, and retail and leasing; tenant Commercial sales;land leasing; tenantsales representation; representation; investment sales; multi-residential; seniors investment properties. housing; property management; consulting and advisory services.

8 11

Marcus & Millichap* JLL 301-275 Bank St.St. Ottawa, ONON K2P 2L6 1004-275 Slater Ottawa, K1P 5H9 613-364-2300 / 613-288-0109 613-364-2310 613-656-0145 marcusmillichap.ca jll.ca

7 5

82 130

21 7 8

8 2

2018 2010

Brokerage and advisoryproject firm serving institutional, public and Tenant representation; and facility management; multinational corporate investors, privatesolutions; owners, major lease administration; national brokerage office/ space users, developers and lenders. industrial leasing; investment sales and management; retail sales.

11 9 11 9

Solid Rock Realty Coldwell FirstON Ottawa Realty 5 Corvus Banker Crt. Ottawa, K2E 7Z4 2 Hobin St. Ottawa, ON K2S 1C3 613-733-3434 613-831-9628 / 613-831-9626 srrealty.ca firstottawarealty.com Koble Commercial Real Estate & Brokerage Capworth Realty Brokerage 4 Foothills Commercial Dr. Ottawa, ON K2H 6K3 204-240 Catherine St. Ottawa, ON K2P 2G8 613-237-0123 613-601-1353 koble.ca capworthrealty.com Real Strategy Advisors Ltd. Coldwell Banker & Co.ON K2C 0A9 200-1280 BaselineRhodes Rd. Ottawa, 102-100 Argyle Ave. Ottawa, ON K2P 1B6 613-216-0130 613-236-9551 / 613-236-2692 realstrategy.com cbrhodes.com Cresa Ottawa JLL 1000-130 Slater St. Ottawa, ON K1P 6E2 1004-275 Slater/ 613-688-7201 St. Ottawa, ON K1P 5H9 613-688-7200 613-656-0145 / 613-288-0109 cresa.com/ottawa jll.ca Decathlon Commercial Realty Solid Rock Realty 17 Saddlebrook St. Ottawa, ON K2G 5N7 5 Corvus Crt. Ottawa, ON K2E 7Z4 613-725-7170 613-733-3434 decathloncommercial.com srrealty.ca CLV Realty Corp. KobleBank Commercial Real Estate & Brokerage 485 St. 4 Foothills Ottawa, Ottawa, ONDr.K2P 1Z2 ON K2H 6K3 613-237-0123 / 613-728-1107 613-728-2000 clvrealty.com koble.ca

5 6

65 150

1 5 6 20

6 10

2004 1994

Aik AliferisDrCar Ransome Sam Firestone and vice-president Nick Pantieras practice lead senior managing directors Gina Cristello Ross Webley broker of record president and broker of record

5 6

N/A 16

1 01 5

1 2

2014 2016

Marc Morin Denis Shank Graeme Webster president andand managing co-founders partner partners

Commercial real estate advisory; acquisition; Tenant representation; buyer representation; ownership listing services. leasing representation.

4 5

0 N/A

1 01 0

5 8

2017 1940

Darren Fleming, Sarah Kiraly broker of record broker

Management consulting; workplace strategy; brokerage Commercial sales; leasing; tenantcommercial representation; services; tenant representation; property investment properties. manangement.

4 5

55 130

1 61 8

3 2

2009 2010

Martin Aass Ransome managingDrCar principal and vice-president and broker of record practice lead

3 5

7 65

1 01 6

1 6

2008 2004

Philip Zunder Gina Cristello president and broker of broker record of record

Tenant representation; project management; lease Tenant representation; and solutions; facility management; administration; nationalproject brokerage office/ lease administration; national brokerage solutions; office/ industrial sales and leasing. industrial leasing; investment sales and management; retail sales. Commercial real estate sales and leasing including office, Commercial leasing; industrial; institutional; retail, industrial, hotels, apartment buildings,appraisals; cannabis, property management; retail; multi-family; retirement homes, land consulting; and syndication. residential; apartments.

3 5


1 01 0

1 1

1969 2014

Mike Kelly Marc Morin broker of record Graeme Webster co-founders and partners

Real estate sales and leasing; property management; Commercial real estate advisory;and acquisition; financial services; construction development. listing services.

7 3 8 4

15 11 15 11

JJMcNeil Commercial Real Strategy Advisors Ltd. Ottawa, ON K0G 1J0 200-1280 Baseline Rd. Ottawa, ON K2C 0A9 613-668-7738 613-216-0130 jjmcneil.ca realstrategy.com

3 4

N/A 0

1 0

2 5

2013 2017

James Darren McNeil Fleming, managing principal and broker of record broker of record

Commercial estate advisory services. Specializes in Managementreal consulting; workplace strategy; brokerage green buildings low-carbon workplaces well as services; tenant and representation; commercialas property accommodation manangement. strategies for tenants.

17 15

Proveras Commercial Realty Cresa Ottawa 1400-222 QueenSt. St.Ottawa, Ottawa ON ON K1P K1P 6E2 5V9 1000-130 Slater 613-788-8275 613-688-7200 / 613-688-7201 proveras.com cresa.com/ottawa

3 4

0 55

1 0 6


2014 2009

Nick Maiorino Martin Aass principal and brokerand of managing principal record of record broker

representation. project management; lease Tenant representation; administration; national brokerage solutions; office/ industrial sales and leasing.


1 0



Philip Zunder president and broker of record

Commercial real estate sales and leasing including office, retail, industrial, hotels, apartment buildings, cannabis, retirement homes, land and syndication.


*These companies did not respond to the most recent survey in time for publication. This information 3 is from previous years. Decathlon Commercial Realty 17 Saddlebrook St. Ottawa, ON K2G 5N7 613-725-7170 decathloncommercial.com


17 15


17 11 17 11

Commercial leasing; industrial; institutional; appraisals; Tenant representation; industrial, property management;office, consulting; retail;commercial, multi-family;land and retail leasing; investment sales; advisory and consulting residential; apartments. services; business sales.




Stéphane Brutus / Telfer School of Management



A university isn’t the first place one thinks of visiting when travelling to a new city. But it’s top of the list, ahead of museums and art galleries, for Stéphane Brutus, the new dean of the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. “I like to walk on campuses, I like to get the vibe of the place, I like to talk to professors and to the students,” said Brutus. “I’ve travelled the world and, for me, I’ve always been fascinated and energized and curious about universities.” Brutus, 54, officially became head of uOttawa’s business school on March 9, following a 23-year career at Concordia University, where he was most recently a professor in motivation and employee performance at its John

Molson School of Business. He replaces professor François Julien, who served as dean at the Telfer School of Management for two terms, from 2010 to 2020. Professor Wojtek Michalowski had been interim dean since summer 2020. “I’m super excited,” Brutus said of his new job. “Professionally, it’s a fantastic opportunity. Telfer is a really, really good school in terms of its research, in terms of its student experience and impact on the community.” Telfer is home to some 4,300 students, 200 faculty members and more than 25,000 alumni. It’s one of only two business schools in Canada to hold the prestigious Triple Crown accreditation. While it’s well known and respected in Ottawa, it needs to reach a broader audience, Brutus believes. “I’d like to bring more of a spotlight to the strengths of the school beyond

the local market,” said Brutus, who will be looking at branding and marketing, increasing international enrollment and creating stronger alliances with other reputable business schools. “The challenge is not to strengthen the school (although I’m going to do that) – the challenge is to make the school better known.” Brutus was born and raised in a Frenchspeaking family in Montreal, to a Haitian father and Québécois mother. He studied psychology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver before earning his MA and PhD in industrial organizational psychology at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University. It runs one of the top I/O psychology programs in the U.S. He spent two more years south of the border completing his post-doctoral fellowship at the internationally respected Center of Creative Leadership in

Greensboro, N.C. before returning to his hometown to join the faculty at Concordia. Brutus’s accomplishments include being interim dean when he renewed the John Molson Business School’s AACSB accreditation. He also served as associate dean of graduate professional programs, chair of the department of management and director of the Bell Research Centre for Business Process Innovations. “If you think of a university, what is it? Well, it’s buildings, it’s infrastructures but, at the core of universities, it’s people,” explained Brutus, whose expertise is in HR management and people management. “It’s professors, it’s staff and it’s students. “It’s really kind of a knowledgebased organization. It’s all about people, it’s all about what people know, how they transfer that knowledge and how they create that knowledge through research, or how they disseminate that knowledge through teaching.” Brutus said he’s looking forward to becoming better acquainted with Ottawa. His hobbies include cycling, tennis and the fast-paced game of ultimate frisbee. “I’d love to find a team that can play at my speed, which is an old man speed,” he joked. Brutus is also trilingual, with his third language being Spanish. He did a one-year stint as a visiting prof in Spain, as well as in Brazil, while on sabbaticals. Before joining Telfer, Brutus had recently started co-chairing a new task force on anti-black racism at Concordia. As well, he was previously board chair of KANPE, an organization that brings support to the most vulnerable communities in Haiti to help them achieve autonomy. — Caroline Phillips

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE Nanometrics’ board of directors has appointed Ian Talbot – currently chief financial officer and vice-president of operations – as CEO. Romy Bowers has been appointed president and CEO of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. for a fiveyear term. Bowers, currently CMHC’s senior vice-president of client solutions, is taking over for Evan Siddall. Matthew Schultz has joined the management team of Merkburn Holdings Ltd. as general manager, following 13 years as a sales representative with Avison Young Commercial Real Estate. Carrie Gillis has been named vicepresident and general manager of Gusto Worldwide Media. Most recently, Gillis held the role of managing director of events and marketing at St. Joseph Communications, Media Division.

Jerome Dwight has joined the management team of financial technology company Brane Capital as president. He brings extensive experience in the financial services and technology sectors, including serving as CEO of Bank of New York Mellon’s Canadian operations. Executive chairman Adam Miron, formerly of HEXO Corp., will serve as interim CEO.


FEATURED PLACEMENTS FROM BOYDEN JOHN KUMHYR has joined RBR as vice-president of sales. One of the region’s most experienced sales executives, Kumhyr has nearly 35 years of international business experience in North America, Europe and Asia. He has held senior leadership roles in world-leading technology companies including Siemens, Infineon and AMCC.

CONRAD BELLEHUMEUR has been named viceJosh Zaret is moving on up at Gemstone, taking over as president from his father, company founder Neil Zaret. Josh has been at the company for 10 years, serving as vice-president. Josh’s brother Adam Zaret has recently joined the company as vice-president. Shauna White has joined Solink, a subscription-based video surveillance software developer, as its new vicepresident of marketing, following 12 years with DNA Genotek.

IN CANADA IT IS PROHIBITED TO INTENTIONALLY ALARM THE QUEEN. Mann Lawyers will keep you from breaching royal etiquette and the law.

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LAURA PAUL has taken on the role of head of operations for Baird. Prior to joining this coastal engineering innovator, she worked in sustainability and operations roles with PCL, Morrison Hershfield and Tiree. She has established herself as a thought leader on the intersection of diversity, sustainability and engineering.

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president of communications and government affairs at Innovative Medicines Canada. Bellehumeur has more than 15 years’ experience at the executive committee level and has led teams across geographies, cultures, functions and business lines. He previously worked with CMA CGA as its head of communications


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80 SPRING 2021

Profile for Great River Media inc.

Ottawa Business Journal Spring 2021  

Ottawa's authoritative source of business news, covering tech, tourism, real estate and other key economic sectors in Canada's capital.

Ottawa Business Journal Spring 2021  

Ottawa's authoritative source of business news, covering tech, tourism, real estate and other key economic sectors in Canada's capital.

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